7 April 2022 / Grants and Awards

Documenting the Victoria Theatre, Stoke

Rachel Walker received the Kathleen Barker Research Grant in 2021 for her work on the archive of the Victoria Theatre Stoke, creating a database of documentary audio theatre files. She gives us an update on her research here:

This grant has allowed me to continue my work in the Victoria Theatre archive (VTA), currently on loan to Staffordshire University. The archive contains an extensive audio collection which includes performances, sound effects, show music, song rehearsals, concerts, local radio trailers, lectures, research interviews & meetings, and special events, totalling 2000 tapes. My original plan was to focus on 200 of the interviews which are recordings that the company generated during their research for the Stoke documentaries, in order to aid the archive in their selection of material for digitisation. The audio collection is a fascinating assortment of interviews with residents of Stoke-on-Trent from a range of backgrounds: from prisoners of war to miners’ wives, primitive Methodists to steelworkers. Members of the company used these accounts to create innovative verbatim theatre documentaries, for example The Knotty (1966) and Fight for Shelton Bar (1973), that were relevant and exciting for communities in the North Staffordshire region. Currently, the collection is a mixture of open reel tapes, cassette tapes and CDs, some of which have been indexed, meaning there are different types of records which need rationalising and organising into a comprehensive system.

Before I could begin work on a database of these specific interviews, it made sense to understand the current collection of records held in the archive for the small number of digitised audio files. This took more time than I anticipated, since it required collating a number of directories into one index and ensuring that the digital entries matched with the physical recordings in the CD collection. This work has been worthwhile, since the archive now has one comprehensive index that relates to the digital audio files.

The next task was to identify which of the documentary interviews I would focus on out of the 200 available. This was difficult as the collection includes such an array of interesting subject matter. Fortunately, as my work on the audio collection prompted the archive to consider a Heritage Lottery bid for further digitisation. This bid is being progressed in collaboration with the New Vic theatre, to celebrate the 60 year anniversary of the theatre. As part of the project, the archive has plans to create a series of digital packs that will allow the material in the collection to be more easily accessible. Since, some of the recordings had never been played since they were first recorded as research for documentaries in the 1980s, this award allowed me the opportunity to listen to the content of these interviews, and to make a new record for this.

Overall, the Kathleen Barker award has allowed me to  further my own knowledge of the VTA, but has also been extremely beneficial to the archive, as they now have a greater understanding of the content of these recordings, which will aid them in their selection for digitisation. As a prompt for a new digitisation project too, the work done using the STR grant has been instrumental in the VTA’s advancement towards greater accessibility, moving them one step closer to their ultimate goal of complete digitisation of their significant audio collection.

Have you got a research project that might be eligible for one of our Research Grants? Applications for this year are now closed, but forms for 2023 will appear on the  Research Grants page later this year.