Women on Stage and in Society : 1850 – 1915

part of the British Theatre History exhibition

part of the British Theatre History exhibition

On Wednesday 6th April the yearly exhibition by second year students of the British Theatre History module launched. Whilst this has been an annual event for several years, this time the students faced a bigger challenge than ever: the size of the Templeman exhibition space. This is only the second exhibition to be held in the new space, and asking first time exhibition makers to fill it was initially concerning, but the students rose to the challenge admirably.

Playbill for Society at the Prince of Wales

Playbill for Society at the Prince of Wales, currently on display

This module offers students the opportunity to learn about a hugely varied period of theatre history in Britain, ranging from Victorian pantomime through to suffragette plays. What’s unique about this module in particular, is that the student use Special Collections and Archives material to really come to terms with the time period, utilising Kent’s extensive Victorian and Edwardian theatre collections. The students look at a range of original material, such as playbills, play-scripts and theatre documentation, to learn about this exciting time.

The British Theatre History student exhibition

A section about living as an actress

This year was different than previously in other ways too. Firstly, the students usually work in groups to produce sections of a general exhibition on British theatre history. This time,

The exhibition launch

The exhibition launch

however, the students were challenged to work individually, and they did not disappoint! The other difference is that this time the students worked on a very specific theme: women. Within this theme the students looked at gender roles in pantomime, the representation of women in melodrama, influential female playwrights, theatre managers and actresses, and theatrical women as a political force. The result is a very well rounded, coherent exhibition, which catches the eye and the interest of passers-by.

Dick Whittington from the Melville Collection

Dick Whittington from the Melville Collection

 

The module draws heavily from theatre collections housed here at Kent. Firstly, the Melville Collection, which tells the story of a theatrical dynasty of actors and theatre managers. The Melville’s owned many theatres around the country, but particularly the Lyceum in London, from which we hold music, takings books, and administrative documentation concerning productions put on there, as well as publicity material and scripts.

A lithograph showing a scene from the Octoroon

A lithograph showing a scene from the Octoroon

 

 

Secondly, the students use the Boucicault Collections. Dion Boucicault was a playwright and actor who worked both here and in America in the 19th century. He was particularly well known for his melodramas, most famously the Octoroon, a controversial play concerning race and slavery. One student has produced a detailed section concerning this play.

Photograph of Nellie Farren, from the Milbourne scrapbook

Photograph of Nellie Farren, from the Milbourne scrapbook

 

 

Many of the students use sections from the Milbourne scrapbook. This scrapbook contains photographs (and some signatures) of famous actors and actresses of the time period, and also accurate depictions of costumes worn in theatrical productions. The costume images were originally black and white, but the scrapbook’s owner attended the productions featured in it, and faithfully coloured in the images to represent what was being worn on the stage.

 

Pettingell scrapbook, currently on display

Pettingell scrapbook, currently on display

Finally the students used our Pettingell Collection. Frank Pettingell was an English actor in the 20th century. He obtained the collection from Arthur Williams, who was an actor and playwright in the 19th century. The collection is made up of a huge selection of printed and handwritten play scripts, many of which were used as performance prompt copies. There are also a handful of theatrical scrapbooks in the collection, one of which is on display.

 

The exhibition is up until the 25th April.

Upcoming Exhibition: Treasures of Rochester Cathedral Library

I am very excited to announce a one-off opportunity for you to get up close to some of the most beautiful, unique and culturally significant books from Rochester Cathedral Library.

After some months of cataloguing these books, as part of a collaborative project between Rochester Cathedral and the University of Kent (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund), I am thrilled to be able to share these books with you for the very first time!

Register to join us on Monday 7 March 2016 at the Drill Hall Library, Chatham Maritime

Book of Hours

15th century illuminated ‘Book of Hours.’

This guided exhibition will give you the opportunity to explore the treasures of the library and find out more from experts who will be on hand to answer any questions on the day. The books and manuscripts being exhibited date from c. 1150 to the 18th centuries, with highlights from the collection including:

  • Tudor Bibles (such as Henry VIII’s ‘Great Bible’ (1539), the Geneva Bible (1584) and the Bishop’s Bible (1568))
  • an excellent example of a John Reynes Tudor binding with royal armorial decoration
  • a fifteenth century illuminated Book of Hours
  • manuscript items including an 11th century St Augustine’s ‘De Consensu Evangelistarum’ and the 13th century Lombard’s ‘Sentences’
  • early modern maps of Kent

So come along and join us for this one-time opportunity to discover more about the collections and Rochester Cathedral, and to speak to members of the project teams from the Cathedral and the University of Kent.

Please register for this free event via Eventbrite at www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/treasures-of-rochester-cathedral-tickets-21555859155.

Geneva Bible

Geneva Bible, 1584

 

Some celebrations

It may actually be slightly after Easter, but we’re only now coming to the end of our Spring term and winding down for the spring break. That means that we’ve spent this week enjoying all kinds of events to celebrate the hard work of students and staff since the beginning of 2015.

Students from the 'Women on Stage' groupTo start with, on Tuesday this year’s student curated exhibition on Victorian and Edwardian Theatre was launched. This module has been running for 5 years, with each year bringing new and exciting developments, and an excellent exhibition as the final piece of work (and this year was no exception)! Throughout the term, second year students have been working with the Theatre Collections here at Kent, and digital collections available elsewhere, whilst learning about theatre between 1860-1910. For the final assessment, the students work in groups, picking a topic of their choice to explore and then present their findings as an exhibition, with an associated website.

Choices of topic have always been diverse, and this year was no exception! Starting with the experience of theatregoing in the Victorian period, the exhibition moves through a comparison of East and West End theatre, the role of women on and off the stage and, finally, the ways in which the Jewish community were portrayed and potrayed themselves in the theatre.

The exhibition curators, with tutors Helen Brooks and Jane Gallagher.

The exhibition curators, with tutors Helen Brooks and Jane Gallagher.

This year, we have teamed up with the Gulbenkian who are hosting the exhibition in their Crossover Gallery, where it will run until 3 May. Do pop in to have a look – it’s free and open during the Gulbenkian’s opening hours.

View of the exhibition launchTuesday turned out to be rather a busy day, since we were also hosting student book launches all day in the reading room. This was part of the third year Book Project module, in which students create their own, original piece of writing an publish it as a physical item. The launch event is a chance for the students to read sections from their work (in front of a supportive audience) and to sell copies to guests. We’re currently in the process of ensuring that we have copies of all of these works in Special Collections, to complement the twentieth century small print press materials in the Modern First Editions Collection.

20150407_171146A huge congratulations to all of the students involved in both of these exciting pieces of work: we hope you enjoyed being a part of it!

And finally, talking of celebration, on Wednesday we got the chance to thank our hard working team of core volunteers with a trip to Canterbury 20150408_151203Cathedral Library, hosted by Cathedral Librarian Karen Brayshaw. Those who came along got to see rare and valuable books from the earliest years of the printing press through to the 19 century, including the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and a Bible translated into a Native American language. Alongside this, of course, we got to enjoy the ambiance of the historical library and its beautiful books – and several people enjoyed the smell of rare books!

So that’s it for another term – although we will, of course, be on hand throughout the spring vacation for all of your research needs. As ever, the arrival of the sunshine provokes a mass exodus to studying out in the sunshine, and the end of term leads to a pervading atmosphere of calm and wellbeing through the Library. I hope that you enjoy the break, if you get one: we’ll certainly be making the most of the hiaitus, prior to the start of our Big Underground Move of all of our collections now scheduled to take place from 15 June.

A busy new year

Another year comes to an end already…I’m not sure where 2014 went, but once again it’s been full of excitement and events for Special Collections & Archives.

Along with our regular lecture series, and the annual teaching of Victorian & Edwardian Theatre history, 2014 witnessed the publication of the first part of a biography of Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, by historian Hugh Gault, based heavily on the scrapbooks held in our collections. Alongside this, and our normal duties, we have been preparing to move all of our collections: next spring, we will be setting up the service in the new Templeman extension. This has really been taking shape over the last few weeks, and we have been lucky enough to pop over to see the new reading room, offices and stores. We can’t wait to be in there, but first there’s just the small matter of moving all of our collections from one end of the building through to the other, over 3 weeks, along one corridor. Look out for more news about this in the new year!

The so-called 'zebra book'; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

The so-called ‘zebra book’; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

In preparation for the move, we have been working closely with a stalwart team of 15 volunteers who have been cleaning our rare and special book collections, packaging the fragile bindings and helping with collections care. This means that the books, which take up several hundred metres of shelving, can be carefully moved without risking any damage. On Wednesday 17 December, we had a special volunteers’ event to mark the end of this project, but I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of this term’s volunteers for their hard work, enthusiasm and commitment, which has enabled us to get over 150 metres of books clean and ready to move.

Also this term, we’ve delivered more than 20 taught sessions and workshops with members of the University community and beyond, including a hugely popular event at the Marlowe Theatre to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. As ever, it’s been great to see people getting so enthusiastic about archives – whether it’s a book signed by Alfred Russell Wallace, acting out the thrilling conclusion of the melodrama Maria Marten or discussing Shakespeare’s Welsh connections.

We’ve had several new members join us the team this year: our new archivist, Ann MacDonald, who is curating the University of Kent Archive, and Rachel Dickinson, Metadata and Special Collections Assistant, who has been cataloguing materials right across the broad spectrum of the collections. You can take a look at Rachel’s thoughts about her experiences getting started in the collections on the blog. Another exciting development has been the appointment of an archivist and a digitisation assistant to the nascent British Stand Up Comedy Archive for a year; again, more news to follow in 2015! Finally, stalwart member of the British Cartoon Archives Team Jane Newton has gone part time, so we now have Joy Thomas working as the other half of the post of Special Collections & Archives Curator.

So as we look forward into 2015, we know there will be some major changes and a considerable amount to organise. But we’re looking forward to settling into our new spaces and continuing to work with researchers to discover rare and exciting materials in the unique Special Collections & Archives here at the University of Kent.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy 2015!

Beyond the trenches

On 11 November 2014, Armistice Day, Special Collections & Archives was involved in an outreach event which explored the themes of the First World War through the theatre of the time, going beyond the trenches to discover how theatre can tell us more about the past. Starting off with the sources (as we always do), we then had a great opportunity to explore the theory and get to see some World War One plays of various kinds. This event was a new and exciting opportunity for us to talk to researchers, from school age to retirees, interested in all kinds of disciplines.

The event’s leader, Dr. Helen Brooks, tells us more:

“It is easy to get bogged down (excuse the pun) in the Battles of Trench Warfare, but now I see that plays of the time are an insight into the culture of the time, which to me is equally as important in understanding the reasoning behind the Great War. This new insight has opened up a whole new perspective”.

Lindsay Kennett, who wrote these words in an email to me last week, was just one of the 30 plus participants who took part in our public study day on First World War theatre, on Tuesday, 11 November at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. The aim of the day was to raise public awareness about how looking at theatre can shed new light on ideas about, and responses to the war: for Lindsay and the many other participants who echoed her sentiments in their feedback, it was clearly a great success.

SONY DSC Over the course of the day we got stuck into a diverse range of activities, all of which were facilitated ably by a team of fantastic student, and ex-student helpers from the Drama Department in the School of Arts – Rebecca O’Brien, Rebecca Sharp, Kinga Krol, and Charlotte Merrikin. Beginning with a brilliant workshop run by Jane Gallagher, from Special Collections at the Templeman, participants had a chance to get ‘hands on’ with sources from Special Collection’s archives (including newspaper clippings, scripts, programs and playbills) and to interrogate them in order to answer questions such as ‘how did the theatre “do its bit” for the war effort?’, SONY DSC‘what impact did the war have on the theatre industry?’, ‘in what different ways was the theme of war treated in performance?’, and ‘how did audiences change during the war?’. This last question then led us into Professor Viv Gardner’s (University of Manchester) stimulating talk about audiences during the war. Reminding us that audiences were made up of diverse groups and that their responses changed depending on the context of the performance, Viv also drew on some moving stories about individual spectators which brought to life the experience of theatre-going during the war.

After a delicious lunch, courtesy of the Marlowe, and an opportunity to chat to each other about our diverse interests and backgrounds (participants included students from the Langtons schools, members of the Western Front Association, and local historians, to name but a few) the afternoon began with rehearsed readings of three First World War one-act plays: The Devil’s Business by J. Fenner Brockway (1914); God’s Outcasts by J. Hartley Manners (1919); andSONY DSC A Well Remembered Voice by J.M. Barrie (1918). It was quite something to see these plays brought to life, the first two quite probably for the first time ever. The actors, including three current Drama students, Zach Wilson (PhD) , Alexander Sullivan, and Louise Hoare, all did an excellent job, especially as the plays were quite distinct in tone and style, and as the actors had only had two and a half days rehearsal in total. After a stimulating discussion about the plays, with some excellent insights from audience members, the day was then rounded off nicely with a thoughtful talk by Dr Andrew Maunder (Reader at University of Hertfordshire) about his own experience of staging ‘lost’ WW1 plays, and in particular A Well Remembered Voice.

This wasn’t the end though! After just a few hours break – during which it was exciting to see our pop-up exhibition on WW1 theatre in the Foyer attracting a lot of attention from audiences waiting to see the RSC – many of us were back at the Marlowe for the evening rehearsed readings. It was great to see an almost entirely SONY DSCnew audience for this. As well as a number of Kent students people came from as far as Dover to join us for this exciting performance. Three of the one-act plays we shared were the same as in the afternoon (although the performances were quite different in energy, something the actors reflected on in the questions afterwards) and we also added an unpublished short play about the Belgian experience during the war entitled There was a King in Flanders (1915) by John G. Brandon. With these four pieces we therefore covered not only the chronological breadth of the war but also a number of different responses to this world event. From The Devil’s Business (1914), a biting satire on the arms trade and its place in fuelling conflict, which was banned in London during the war; to There was a King in Flanders (1915) with its focus on a dying Belgian soldier; and finally to God’s Outcasts (1919) and A Well Remembered Voice (1918) both of which offer sharply different responses towards grief, the plays as a whole offered new insights into the diverse ways in which theatre treated the war between 1914 and 1918. And with insightful comments and an enthusiastic response from the audience, it seems there’s certainly potential to hold similar events in the future.

SONY DSC If you’d like to find out more about Theatre of the First World War, contact Dr Helen Brooks at h.e.m.brooks@kent.ac.uk. Our pop-up exhibition on Theatre of the First World War is available for free loan to theatres, schools and other public institutions. If you would like to host this exhibition simply get in touch with gateways@kent.ac.uk. There is no charge for hosting or delivery.

This study day was one of a series of events being run by Gateways to the First World War, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded centre for public engagement with the First World War. To find out more about Gateways and how we can help you with activities, advice and expertise, visit www.gatewaysfww.org.uk.

With thanks to Leila Sangtabi for provision of photographs.