Leeds University Library

Red Ladder Theatre Company collection available

Published Thursday 4 May 2017

Library staff with artefacts from Red Ladder collection

Meet the team that made it happen

Leeds-based radical theatre company Red Ladder Theatre Company, has thanked the Special Collections team for the cataloguing and archiving of nearly 50 years' worth of their history.

Over the last four months, the collection of business and corporate information, press and publicity material, photographs and posters has been catalogued and listed by a team from Special Collections as well as volunteers. The collection will now be made accessible for people to use for research projects, study or general interest. 

The company celebrates its 50th birthday in 2018. The project was funded by a grant secured in 2016 from the Business Archives Council (BAC) to catalogue business archives related to the Arts.

Fiona Gell was appointed Cataloguing Assistant to the Red Ladder Theatre collection in December. She was already working on the front/enquiry desk at Special Collections. The volunteers were recruited once the project started.

Fiona said, "I was so pleased to get the opportunity to work on this project. I volunteer with Red Ladder Theatre Company in my spare time and already work in Special Collections, so it was a match made in heaven!"

Special Collections offers a number of project volunteer opportunities on a regular basis. This project recruited three volunteers who worked around one day a week on the project; MA student Giulia Magnotti Komatz, Leeds University Gallery Assistant Fran Horner and Red Ladder Theatre volunteer, Charlie McIlwain.

Giulia said, "I am learning a lot about archives by participating on this project. As an international student, being able to learn about a part of Yorkshire's cultural history that is the Red Ladder Company has been a great experience."

Lead archivist for the project, Jen Zwierink explained the cataloguing process, "Fiona and I first looked at how Red Ladder functioned, both as a business and a theatre company. This helped us to decide how the catalogue should be structured. Looking through the old committee records and minutes has given us a great insight into how the company has evolved over time. After the catalogue structure was mapped out Fiona was able to delve further into the files to create detailed catalogue descriptions."

The archiving work involves ordering and allocating unique reference numbers and descriptions. The team select which items should be digitised and store everything correctly to make sure they are conserved to the best quality.

Fiona added, "I've been able to use my knowledge of what Special Collections' customers look for when researching to catalogue the material in the most useful way. I imagine we'll see wide academic and student use. This collection would be of particular interest to researchers of theatre and performance but also design, graphics,politics and business. The Company's radical political nature is fascinating."

Red Ladder Theatre Company Artistic Director Rod Dixon said, "We're due to celebrate our 50th anniversary next year and the work of the Special Collections team has meant that we can take a clear and detailed look back at how far we've come. We're hoping to hold a display of some of the items to celebrate the anniversary later in the year, which would have proved to be very difficult without this project. 

"We are often approached by students, academics and enthusiasts interested in our radical history so this archive enables access in a way that would have been impossible without the work of Special Collections. It also opens the collection up in a formal, structured way which Red Ladder could never, even in another 50 years, have offered".

The Red Ladder Theatre's promotional material is proving particularly popular, particularly the flyers and posters. The graphic design captures moments from both a social and political point of view and the team consider them works of art.

If you are interested in exploring the collection, please contact Special Collections to organise the retrieval of items two working days in advance of your visit.
The BAC award was launched in 2013 to support an under-represented area of business archives and to complement wider initiatives for archiving the arts.

Photograph: Some of the team show some of the collection's items. Left - right -Tim Procter (Special Collections), Chris Lloyd (Red Ladder Theatre Company), Jen Zwierink (Special Collections) and Giulia Magnotti Komatz (Student volunteer).