8 June 2022 / Theatre Book Prize

Erin Lee on the 2022 Book Prize entries

Erin is Head of Archive for the National Theatre. She is a current PhD candidate at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, where she is researching how to improve the archiving of process in theatre. She is a member of BAFTA’s Heritage Committee and the Chair of the Association of Performing Arts Collections, a subject specialist network of archives, libraries and museums in the UK and Ireland holding performing arts content.

Hello, I am Erin Lee. I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the judging panel for this year’s prize and am very grateful to my fellow judges for their wisdom, good humour and engaging conversation throughout this process. Also, a big thank you to Howard Loxton for guiding us so seamlessly through the process and to the STR for asking me to be involved.

I want to pick out a few of the books that really stuck with me and I will go through them in alphabetical order.

The first is Brickwork: A Biography of the Arches by Kirsten Innes and David Bratchpiece, published by Salamander Street Ltd. This book is a verbatim take on the history of the famous Arches venue in Glasgow from its foundation through to its closure. Told uniquely in the words of those involved it covers every aspect of the venue including programming, licensing and funding. You get a real sense of the camaraderie in the company and the challenges that they faced. A lot of the book is taken up with descriptions of the infamous club nights, which were introduced as a means of funding the venue as well as covering the DJing, live art and theatre that were part of this venue’s varied past. It is fascinating to see this very early model of private funding for a performing arts venue as we deal today with cuts to arts funding and an ever-increasing pressure on private funding streams to keep our venues alive.

In Deep are the Roots: Trailblazers who changed Black British Theatre by Stephen Bourne and published by The History Press, we are told from a very personal perspective about the pioneers of Black British theatre including some fantastic interviews with important contributors to this history. Its appendix of a database of stage productions of Black and Asian performance from 1825 to 1975 is an incredible starting point for any student or practitioner interested in exploring this area in more detail. I particularly enjoyed the blending of the first-person narrative with the rigor of academic research, making this both an enjoyable and educational read.

Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal by Giles Terera and published by Nick Hern Books provides an insight into Terera’s experience of preparing for, rehearsing and performing as Aaron Burr in the smash hit musical Hamilton. This book details Terera’s approach to the role, his research and preparations from first audition right up to his performances on stage. It provides insights into an actor’s method and will have wide appeal to those who love the show and want to know more about the process of producing a play in the West End.

In Theatre and Archival Memory: Irish Drama and Marginalised Histories 1951-1977 by Barry Houlihan and published by Palgrave Macmillan, we have a thorough and detailed account of an aspect of theatre close to my heart: that of archiving. This book focuses on an under-explored period of Irish theatre history and draws on newly released and digitised archival materials to encourage a broader interpretation of historiography of this period and really highlighting the value of archival records to our future understanding of how theatre responds to political, cultural and social change.

Finally, I want to mention Work…and other four-letter words by Joseph Millson and published by Urwin Press. This warts-and-all account of Millson’s first ten years in the industry following drama school is a very honest account of the ups and downs of life as an actor with funny and heart-breaking stories, portraying an actor who is so much in love with his work. I really enjoyed reading this with its lucidity and brutal honesty about a profession we can too often view with rose-tinted glasses. I look forward to a second volume!

Overall, I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to read many books that have been published during and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and I look forward to more of these valuable, reflective and innovative works that will come as we move out of this life-changing period in history.

I want to say thank you again to the STR for the opportunity to be part of the book prize this year and to all of the authors and publishers for their submissions.

Watch the full video presentation on YouTube here

And read all the other details about the Book Prize and its history here