THIS EVENT HAS TAKEN PLACE
21st-22nd June, 2008
National Theatre Archive, London
The highlight so far of the Society's Diamond Jubilee celebrations was the weekend of June 21-22, with a conference, Directions in Theatre Research, held at the National Theatre's Archive, in a room from which delegates could see the Old Vic, followed next day by a garden party in the grounds of Garrick's beautifully restored Thames-side temple to Shakespeare. The conference was an opportunity to take stock. Today, well over a hundred University theatre courses are on offer, and theatre research has developed from the pastime of a few enthusiasts to a major source of thoroughly researched books and papers on every aspect of the field. If the Theatre Museum and its huge collection has taken a step out of the limelight, the value placed by the profession itself on preservation of its records is evidenced by the NT's splendidly equipped new archive, and a similar set-up in Stratford serving the RSC.
The conference's first session looked at the need for the 'conservatoires', vocational training establishments like RADA or LAMDA, to gain access to funding by offering degrees, while the Universities that validate those degrees are more and more offering acting degrees of their own. Speakers included Michael Gaunt, deviser of several 'conservatoire' courses, Ross Prior, responsible for one of the new degree acting courses, and Sophie Nield, with experience of both aspects in Central School's wide-ranging programme. There was general agreement that there is no comparison between the ten-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week intensity of the conservatoires' courses and the handful of lectures and workshops offered in the academic departments, although it was also acknowledged that god-given talent might mean that great actors could emerge from shorter courses, or even no training at all: it is ironic that there are far fewer courses available in either sector for directors, who might be reckoned to need even more instruction many of them gain experience by being hired to direct conservatoire productions. It was because of this lack that the Directors' Guild helped set up Birkbeck College's respected MFA in Directing.
Which brings up a question of nomenclature: it would be madness for the two groups offering actor training to compete rather they should work together to resist the inevitable cuts which will affect them both, in an area of training which has to be labour intensive at any level, and emphasise the different but real value of each. It would seem a good idea if conservatoire courses, which require so much more instructor input (something which is already acknowledged in a system which, we learned, already allocates 60% or even 100% more funding to such courses), should be distinguished from more basic BA courses by being called Bachelor (or even Master, as with Birkbeck) of Fine Arts. That the very concept of the conservatoire is in danger is shown by recent events in Scotland, where advanced courses at both RSAMD and Queen Margaret are under threat.
The second session looked at research into an area which could be said to be as old as the Society, since the term 'Fringe' came into being with the first Edinburgh Festival in 1948. In fact the problem of researching non-mainstream theatre, as shown by the first speaker, Colin Chambers, author of a history of the left-wing Unity Theatre, has always been with us. With fellow-panellists Trevor Griffiths and Susan Croft offering similar examples, he showed how difficult it was to reassemble material on companies that might keep poor records, and how dangerous it could be to rely on the oral evidence of participants. Research into the alternative scene was important, as it was often the training ground of people who went on to become major figures, and who might gloss over these humble beginnings. In the course of discussion it emerged that many of the new breed of theatre researchers were producing dissertations on alternative and live art groups, and that while Ph D theses were catalogued and kept, if seldom consulted, there was no such way of accessing even a subject index of MA dissertations. This problem needs to be addressed.
The final group of speakers Jim Davis, Tony Dunn, Jane Pritchard and Michael Read looked at where research might go in the next sixty years. Both they and the wider conference came up with a host of proposals and ideas, some of which could make the basis for future STR campaigns. To float just a few of them:
General Events Archive
14th September 2008