Discover more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection

We are delighted to announce that the full collection of printed materials from the Reading-Rayner Theatre Collection is now available to discover in Special Collections & Archives.

The Reading Rayner collection is an expansive selection of items, largely consisting of theatrical material. This includes books pertaining to the history of theatre and film, biographies and memoirs, and play texts, as well as a large number of theatre programs spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. Alongside this is the Play Pictorial, a series of early theatre magazines, bound together, containing reviews and photographs from popular productions of the time, spanning the years 1902 – 1939, when the magazine was merged with Theatre World due to the paper rationing of the Second World War.

The collection is named after Jack Reading and his partner Colin Rayner, who began donating their material to the University of Kent in the 1980s. They initially started their collections separately, but brought them together to form one super-collection. Jack was a founding member, and later Secretary General, of the International Federation for Theatre Research, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Kent in 2000.

Personal ephemera often lay within the pages of many of the books themselves, undiscovered until we pulled back the pages to reveal personal hand written letters, travel documents and even a receipt for potato seeds!

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

Discovered by Josie

Having been a cataloguer of rare books and special collections at the University of Kent for around nineteen months, I have grown accustomed to handling books many centuries in age, with beautiful hand painted illustrations and delicate bindings that cover a diverse range of subjects.  I was initially struck by “The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre” due to the visually compelling front cover.  There are many books within the collection that offer an insight into all aspects of theatre and performance, many with generically designed book covers, but this screamed what it was all about from a distance.  Written by Laurence Senelick, director of Graduate Studies, Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University in Massachusetts, “The Changing Room” explores the history of cross-dressing in theatre from ancient times to the modern day, offering to take “readers on a colourful, lavishly illustrated tour of the stages and dressing-rooms of history, from tribal rituals to sacred prostitution, to contemporary musical comedy and performance art.”  I was impressed at this book’s ability to pull the attention of someone whose interest in theatre and performance is minimal and which has subsequently left me with a little bit of a thirst to find out more about the performing arts.

Our Discoveries (clockwise from left):  "Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version" ; The Changing Room:  sex, drag and theatre" ; "Macbeth" ; "The Merchant of Venice."

Our discoveries (clockwise from left): “Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version” ; The Changing Room: sex, drag and theatre” ; “Macbeth” ; “The Merchant of Venice.”

Discovered by Rachel

Of the items I catalogued, the oldest was from the first half of the 17th century, the smallest was a 7cm tall copy of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, (published in Venice, with accompanying Italian inscription from the buyer), and the most aesthetic, (in my opinion), was a copy of Macbeth with a hand decorated cover, complete with gold leaf. In terms of subject matter, the books I encountered varied from the traditional theatre of Shakespeare to 19th century burlesques (the precursor to pantomime rather than the exotic shows of today), to modern gay plays. One item that particularly stood out for me on a personal level was The Authorised Jesus Christ Superstar.

Musicals have been an interest of mine since I was about ten. I have seen Joseph, Evita, Cats and the Phantom of the Opera, and in 2012 I was at the O2 for the second performance of the Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. This book, never reprinted, records the development of the musical, from its conception by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, to the album and original Broadway production.

The book resembles an album of memories, following the first few years of Superstar’s life. Running continuously along the bottom of the pages are interviews with various people involved in the production, alongside a more in-depth interview with Lloyd Webber and Rice. There are plenty of photographs, predominantly black and white, but also several pages of colour plates of a higher quality, featuring images from the Broadway production, a facsimile of a highly decorative piece of sheet music for the title song and, bizarrely, a colour facsimile of “…And Through Him Save a World,” an issue of the Green Lantern magazine, featuring a modern messiah crucifixion scene. The book also contains facsimiles of posters and magazine covers, reviews and articles, letters from fans and cartoon strips. What I find hugely interesting however, is that it doesn’t just focus on the success of the production. It also considers the controversy that surrounded the show from the word go, featuring both positive and negative reactions from the religious community of the time, from the news that the Vatican was to broadcast the show in full, to letters informing the record company that they will have to pay for using the Lord’s name to make money.  This is a hugely intriguing book for any musical lover, theatre historian or person with an interest in religious culture. The sheer variety of material this book contains is sure to enthral the reader.

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

The cataloguing of the theatrical material is now complete, but the rest of the collection also contains fiction, poetry and rare books, yet to be discovered.

To explore all of this and more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection visit to search our catalogue or contact us for more information.

By Josie Caplehorne and Rachel Dickinson

Adventures of an Amateur Archivist

Mmmmm. Cake.

Mmmmm. Cake. (Edsel Little – Flicka)

I didn’t grow up wanting to be an archivist. My one clear ambition, around the age of eight, was to be a baker in the morning and an author in the afternoon. When it came to choosing a degree I was fairly lost, after all who really knows what they want to do when they’re seventeen. I decided to do Classical and Archaeological studies, like most people simply because I liked the subject at school, and chose the University of Kent as I knew Canterbury well and found the course contained many uniquely interesting modules.

The idea of becoming an archivist came to me about halfway through my second year at Kent. I have always been fascinated by history, even as a young child, but struggled working out how to use it in my career. I couldn’t be a history teacher, neither could I see myself as a lecturer in history – I was terrified of speaking to groups of people. I couldn’t picture myself as a career historian. Despite archaeology being part of my degree title, I followed more of an Ancient History pathway, deciding archaeology was not the right fit for me.

Bizarrely I think a large influence was the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ I have always primarily been more interested in social and religious history than any other sphere, and I think the initial idea I had was to become a genealogist, but WDYTYA showed me archives could hold a wealth of hugely interesting and varied material, and to be working with that material, and maybe even be in charge of what happens to it, is what pulled me towards the career. I also hold a firm belief that anything of historical value should be preserved and made available for anyone who wants to see it.

So, after a couple of years of job hunting, and a year stint as a casual and Saturday girl at my local council libraries, I managed to get a job as a Metadata Assistant at my old university. I hadn’t expected to return to Kent, but I was exceedingly happy to do so. I viewed this job as more or less perfect in terms of transitioning between libraries and archives, the wealth of experience I would gain, and the direction I wanted to be going in. Needless to say I could hardly believe my luck.

My co-workers of happiness (and me)

My co-workers of happiness (and me)

My first task was to conquer cataloguing. I had no previous experience and so have learnt everything from scratch. Initially I was focussed on regular academic books, and then I was introduced to Special Collections book cataloguing. Initially the experience was incredibly confusing. The empty catalogue record looked to me a little like a small Excel spreadsheet with a list of, (then meaningless), numbers at the side. Now it makes perfect sense to me, but at the time I found it challenging.

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

Later I was moved on to cataloguing for the British Cartoon Archive (BCA), which doesn’t just involve books. My principle duty is cataloguing modern political cartoons from the daily newspapers. This uses a different program to book cataloguing, so, just as I was adjusting to the first program, I was given another, totally different, one to master. Cartoon cataloguing is definitely a skill that improves with practice. The point is to enter search terms in the record that describe the cartoon, but working out what is going on in any given cartoon isn’t always straightforward. What I struggled with most was approaching this with little diverse political knowledge. I had no idea who most of the people in the cartoons even were. Now I can recognise caricatures of people, despite not knowing what they look like in reality.

A hugely important collection within the BCA is that of Carl Giles, and as part of this we have stacks of blank Christmas cards, designed by him. My first non-cataloguing job was to count these, and put them in boxes. The novelty soon wore off. Unsurprising when you consider I counted over thirteen thousand of these. However I did eventually get through them, and the sense of triumph when they were done was palpable. My work at the BCA has become more diverse, although boxes continue to play a remarkably large part in my life.

Many many Giles annuals (without attendant boxes)

Many many Giles annuals (without attendant boxes)

A few months into my work at Kent the BCA received a new and highly significant collection of the political cartoonist Leon Kuhn. He was an anti-war cartoonist, who campaigned alongside George Galloway’s party Respect in the 2005 general election. His work, I have learned, is unique, hard hitting, and often fairly disturbing. It is also large. I was given the task of unrolling and relocating his political posters, many of which were taller than my five feet two inches. I appreciate that for a human five foot two is not especially tall, but for rolls of paper it is pretty big, not to mention unwieldy. I also had to relocate the rest of the collection, including boxes of campaign leaflets, photos and books. I did enjoy this work, especially as it was my first real opportunity to see some of the collections, but I felt a little like a removals lady.

The work that I am proudest of taking on is of a more social nature. I have always struggled to talk to people, be they in groups, or just one person I don’t know particularly well. I often find my nerves get the better of me to the point of panic attacks. So when I was asked if I wanted to supervise volunteers in a rare book cleaning project and help out in seminars run for students using Special Collections and Archives material, my first response, both times, was panic and a distinct sense of ‘no way,’ after all I had only been in the job three months, surely there was no way I was prepared for this. I ignored my brain screaming wordlessly at me, and agreed to give both a go.

The volunteering was the easier of the two to deal with. Initially I only had one volunteer to supervise cleaning rare books in preparation for our move to the Templeman extension next year, and I was lucky that she was a happy, friendly and chatty sort of person. It went a lot better than I anticipated and I actually enjoyed doing it, which is what surprised me the most. This project has allowed my confidence to grow substantially.

Before and after - volunteer cleaning

Before and after – volunteer cleaning

The seminars were harder. There would be a group of students who would all be listening to, and for the most part looking at, me whilst I gave a run down on what Special Collections and Archives was, how to order items and how to use the material we had out in the seminar. I was shaking at the time, but I overcame my nerves, and found presenting became easier with each seminar. This came with a great sense of achievement, as I overcame my initial concerns.

I think it’s easy to say the most interesting thing that has occurred in my brief time here was the Reading Room leak. I came in on a Monday morning to be informed it was basically raining in the reading room. Over the course of the day tiles fell off the ceiling and the carpet was soaked through, however all staff pulled together to ensure there was no major damage to any collection items. Throughout the day, and over the course of the next couple of days, I helped various other staff members remove items from the room, such as reference books, old playbills from our theatre collections, and the Indonesian shaman’s staff. (You get some weird looks when you carry that through the library and into a lift). Basically the entire of that week was a little frantic. I regularly had to leave my usual work to go and help deal with the disaster. I spent a lot of time scurrying around the building, and found I was exhausted at the end of it. But oddly I almost enjoyed the experience. Especially after we managed to save everything.

My colleague Josie in the leaking reading room

My colleague Josie in the leaking reading room

My experience has been invaluable. I have huge variety in the work I do, with ample opportunity to push myself further. I have a much clearer idea of the work archivists do, and most importantly for me I have confirmed to myself that this is the area in which I want to work. I absolutely love the work I do, although that may not always come across. Even tasks that I didn’t necessarily find easy are an important experience, and I think it’s good for archivists to be involved in their collections with work at every level. My experience of working with a variety of collections, in a variety of functions has prepared me to commit to a postgraduate course in archive management. I work in the happy knowledge that I am incredibly lucky to be working here. It took me two years following graduation to get a full time job, but now I know that it was worth the wait, and I am unbelievably happy to be back at Kent.

Rachel Dickinson

Thou shall not leak!!

Thou shall not leak!!