Staging History at York Theatre Royal: Archives and the History Play Pilot Project

Project: Research project (funded)Internal pump-priming

Project Details


This application seeks funding to enable a suitably-qualified postdoctoral research assistant to undertake a dedicated four weeks of research on the York Theatre Royal archives. The PDRA should have some experience in working with theatre archives as part of their doctorial or other postdoctoral research; they would also be knowledgeable about theatre history and would ideally have experience in some aspect of theatre-making, devising or dramaturgy to enable them to identify elements of the archive that would lend themselves to theatrical development.

The PDRA will work with the City archive collections (York Explore), the York Theatre Royal Post-1945 Archive (held by York St John University) and, where appropriate, the York Minster Library and the Borthwick, to build up a history of staging the history play at the Theatre Royal, using playbills, programmes and other contextual information to identify the historical settings of plays and their frequency of performance and revival (and thus, by implication, their popularity). The PDRA will be especially interested in identifying material on plays commissioned or produced by York Theatre Royal, as opposed to touring companies from London and elsewhere. To assist the PDRA in archive work, they will receive initial training at the University’s Borthwick Institute.

The PDRA will produce a database of history plays performed at York Theatre Royal and an Archive Report detailing the items held across York and the periods of the theatre’s history that they cover. As the York St John archive is currently organised but not catalogued, and some of the catalogue descriptions for items in the Civic Archive and Community Collections are misleadingly labelled, this report will perform a service to future researchers. It will identify holdings where digitisation has been conducted or begun, and holdings where digitisation would be of particular benefit, as well as identifying at-risk holdings whose acquisition by an accredited archive collection would ensure their longevity. The report will also identify cataloguing priorities for future work by a professional archivist, should funds become available.

The PDRA will also develop the relationship with York Theatre Royal’s current staff, who have access to a range of archive materials that are currently uncatalogued. Key individuals with whom we have already established contact are Gabriella Lee in Marketing and Tom Bird, the Executive Director, who is keen to develop closer ties with the University and who sits on TFTV’s Advisory Board. The PDRA will produce a Dramaturgical Report, in accordance with a brief supplied by the Lead Applicant, highlighting individual archive items, artefacts, props and documented stories and legends that would form starting points for scriptwriting and devising work with TFTV students. This work would be developed with student volunteers during 2019/20, with regular showings of work-in-development to Theatre Royal personnel and other invited guests and would be staged as either work-in-progress or as a finished production both at TFTV and at the Theatre Royal’s Studio. This ‘performing the archive’ element is key to the intended impact of the project, building a relationship with our closest regional theatre and helping to curate and inspire interest – among students and local audiences – in the theatre’s history and representation of history.

Layman's description

The history play, as a playwriting genre, has been gaining academic attention in recent years, but the history of staging history plays in English regional theatres has thus far been a neglected area. This project will use York Theatre Royal, built in 1744, as its case study. The project will build up a detailed picture of the kinds of history plays that have been produced at the Theatre Royal, drawing on the archives held in different locations across York. This ‘history of history plays’ will then be used as inspiration for practice-as-research responses to the Theatre Royal and its history.
Short titleStaging History at York Theatre Royal
Effective start/end date1/04/1931/07/19