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Theatre and Performance

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Our theatre and performance archives reveal information about social and cultural preoccupations of society, the effect of performance on the community, and the changing ethics of, and fashions in, cultural events.

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Drama, dance and opera reflect the social, philosophical and political preoccupations of the society in which they are written and staged. Theatre and performance help people learn about their own environment and other societies. At their most powerful they can influence people’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviour.

The archives of cultural organisations and writers are valuable resources for research in various disciplines. Practitioners in performance arts can use stage management and technical files to examine the previous staging of shows to reconstruct or vary them. Social, cultural and political historians can explore the themes of plays to analyse changing attitudes and reactions to events.

Stage management and production files support practitioners in discovering the scenery, props and lighting used in a specific production. Technical diagrams can record significant new developments and ideas in the staging of events.  The researcher can often find out about audience response to a performance through show reports and press files.

Cultural historians can find rich resources in programmes, flyers and photographs, which reveal much about popular culture in their design and typesetting and through the advertisements featured. The subjects and staging of performances reflect the values and interests of the society in which they are produced.

The personal archives of dramatists and choreographers are valuable resources for political and social researchers. The papers indicate how writers and technicians have interpreted current events in their work. They can also reveal the reactions of governments and political organisations to artistic output.

Theatre collections

Leeds Playhouse Collection

Special Collections holds the archives of one of the most important theatre companies in Yorkshire: the Leeds Playhouse Collection.

This large collection has great research potential. Researchers can uncover changing social and cultural interests through studying the performances staged. Press files and show reports reveal the audiences’ reactions. Cultural, social and local economic changes are evident in the advertisements and artwork in programmes, flyers and other promotional material.

Students of performing arts can examine the stage management and production files which contain prompt scripts, rehearsal notes and technical drawings. These are invaluable to an exploration of the process of putting on a successful stage show.

Alec Baron Archive

The Alec Baron Archive contains material about alternative theatre in Leeds and cinema. It is centred on the Leeds Unity Theatre, of which Baron was a founding member in 1939.

Researchers into politics can find information about left-wing, particularly communist politics, in the theatre in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Play scripts and introductory speeches on race-relations and social injustice reveal the social and economic preoccupations of alternative theatre in the mid-twentieth century.

English Stage Company papers

The papers of the English Stage Company contain material dating back to the 1950s, when the company changed the face of British theatre with plays like ‘Look Back in Anger’ at the Royal Court Theatre. Social, political and cultural historians can explore how the company’s often radical productions challenged the status quo. This collection holds the papers of George Devine, the company's first artistic director who specifically aimed to discover controversial new writers. Through Devine’s correspondence with figures such as John Osborne, Alec Guinness and Tony Richardson researchers can study the relationships between a director, writers and actors.

William Gaskill papers

The papers of William Gaskill principally relate to his period as artistic director at the Royal Court Theatre, between 1965 and 1972. Gaskill's detailed notebooks reveal his ideas for various productions he directed. Social and cultural historians can study reactions to these often controversial productions, particularly Edward Bond’s, through the reviews of his work in the collection.

African theatre

Special Collections holds a small but significant amount of African Theatre archives including a Wole Soyinka Collection. This contains annotated typescripts of his works, some of which have been amended by Soyinka.  These are of significance to students of Soyinka's works and those interested in studying the process of writing a play.

The Soyinka Collection together with the African theatre manuscripts and papers assembled by Martin Banham are of particular interest to researchers into Nigerian politics and culture. The latter collection contains playscripts by various African writers including J. P. Clark and Femi Osofisan together with journals, academic papers and reports about African theatre.

Young People’s Theatre

The SCYPT (Standing Conference of Young People’s Theatre) collection offers a rich opportunity for researchers to explore the productions devised by Theatre in Education (TIE) companies for different age groups primarily in the 1970s and 1980s. The collection was amassed at Bretton Hall College Wakefield which was a teacher training college for performing arts students. The SCYPT Collection reveals the subjects which the companies deployed to help children and young people to understand their relationships with others and in wider society.

Researchers in education can investigate how TIE challenged mainstream educational practices and stimulated critical thinking in young audiences. Social historians can study the ways in which TIE companies made complex social issues accessible to children and young people through innovative drama and associated educational resources.

The Leeds Playhouse Collection includes scripts for plays devised by Leeds TIE from 1971-1990 at the Leeds Playhouse. The collection also contains archives generated by the Leeds Playhouse relating to education and outreach from 1990-2006.  These include documents generated by the playhouse’s Schools’ Company in the mid-1990s.

The Workshop Theatre is home to the academic study of theatre in the School of English. Its collection enables researchers to explore the productions performed by students in the early 1970s to the 1990s through theatre programmes, photographs and publicity documents. Many of the plays were written locally. The collection is particular interest as the Workshop Theatre offered the first postgraduate MA in Theatre Studies in the UK.

Alternative theatre

The fringe theatre company Foco Novo had a particular interest in encouraging new plays by Black British writers.  The collection contains scripts by writers such as Alfred Fagon.  The Company also aimed to reach audiences who would not usually go to the theatre e.g. it toured Miners’ Halls through the auspices of the National Union of Mineworkers.  For this reason the Foco Novo Collection is particularly rich for researchers into social and cultural history in the 1970s and 1980s.

Since 1971 the radical Red Ladder Theatre Company has focused its work on producing innovative new works promoting social change and justice. The company's archive includes business papers, scripts, publicity materials and photographs.  The material is a rich resource for researchers exploring social and political themes in drama.  The posters provide insights into the development of graphic design over the last 50 years.

Dance collections

Rudolf Laban Collections

Rudolf Laban (1879–1958) was a choreographer, teacher, and educator. He was a pioneer of modern dance, and his work laid the foundations for Laban Movement Analysis and Labanotation.

Our Rudolf Laban Collections offer researchers the opportunity to explore the development of Laban’s thoughts and practice through his performance works, particularly in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Articles in the collections about Laban provide different perspectives on his philosophy of dance and movement, and its relationship to contemporary culture and politics.

The largest archive, the Laban Collection, contains letters, examples of dance scripts and floorplans, which document the evolution of Laban’s new method of dance notation, Labanotation.

A smaller collection, compiled by Dick McCaw , contains issues of journals about Laban’s dance theories and practice, including Movement and Dance Quarterly. Some of these date from 1949, and enable researchers to investigate the development of, and reactions to, Laban’s work over several decades.

Phoenix Dance Theatre Collection

Researchers can explore the development of one of Britain’s leading contemporary dance companies through the Phoenix Dance Theatre Collection.

The performance and production files contain papers revealing how shows were staged. Archives include cue sheets and costume lists. Social and cultural historians can examine how the performances of a pioneering, multicultural, dance group were publicised and reviewed in the marketing and press files.

RJC Dance Collection

RJC Dance was founded in 1993 by three of the original members of Phoenix Dance Theatre to promote dance from a Black British perspective. The RJC Dance Collection contains publicity material showing how the performances were promoted. There are also newspaper articles giving contemporary responses.

Dance Archive

The Dance Archive is a fascinating resource for researchers into contemporary dance in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Collection was compiled at Bretton Hall College and comprises small files on multiple modern dance companies. These contain a mixture of brochures, programmes and newspaper cuttings relating to the companies.

Opera collections

Cheryl Frances-Hoad scores and papers

Cheryl Frances-Hoad is a contemporary composer of orchestral and operatic works. From 2010–2012 she was the first DARE Cultural Fellow in the Opera Related Arts in association with Opera North and the University of Leeds.

The Cheryl Frances-Hoad scores and papers are a record of her works during this period. Researchers can study Frances-Hoad’s methods of working and trace the evolution of her compositions through annotated musical scores and written notes.

The collection also represents the type of innovative new works being supported through collaborations between educational institutions and cultural organisations.

John and Nell Moody Collection

John Moody was a pioneering theatre and opera director in the mid-twentieth century. Nell Moody, his wife, was an opera singer, teacher and translator.

The John and Nell Moody Collection contains fascinating personal papers including diaries, correspondence and annotated opera scores. Through the correspondence researchers can explore relationships between various practitioners in theatre and opera circles. Students of the performing arts can study John Moody's annotated opera scores to investigate his directing techniques.

Denis ApIvor

Denis ApIvor was one of the first British composers to explore modernist composition techniques, such as serialism, and he created an opera and several ballets.

ApIvor was well known for using non-music sources such as drama, poetry and painting for inspiration. Researchers into innovative twentieth century composition will find abundant scores, together with personal memoirs and autobiographical material, which reveal much about his work.

Literary scholars and students of the performance arts can explore how ApIvor used texts and art to create dramatic musical compositions for the stage.