January 16, 2015, by Kathryn Steenson

Playing Around with Archives

Our first exhibition of the year opens today at the Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre. ‘Playing Around: Taking Theatre to Communities across the East Midlands‘ explores the history of two local theatre companies, New Perspectives Theatre and Nottingham Playhouse’s Theatre-in-Education company, Roundabout.

Photograph from 'Walking the Tightrope'

Photograph from ‘Walking the Tightrope’

Their extensive archives have recently been added to The University of Nottingham’s collections. This exhibition provides the first opportunity to see behind the scenes of both companies, following them from their beginnings as small but ambitious theatre-in-education companies with a mission to champion local talent, to their rise to award-winning companies whose ground-breaking works are performed from Nottingham to New York.

From the 1980s, New Perspectives increasingly focused on rural touring theatre. Poor transport networks and other factors means people from rural areas are less likely go to a theatre, so New Perspectives takes theatre to them. As well as light-hearted comedies set in the East Midlands of a bygone age, the plays also address current issues relevant to their audience, such as rural development and Eastern European economic migrants to the East Midlands.

Roundabout has continued theatre-in-education right into the 21st century, working with primary and secondary school aged children tackling subjects as diverse as crime, sibling rivalry, and bereavement. More recently, they have produced ground-breaking work for audiences with multiple and profound disabilities. The author, Dr Gill Brigg, kindly loaned us the tone script showing the colours, sounds and textures used in each scene, which is displayed along with production photographs.

Costume Design 'The Drawer Boy'

Costume Design ‘The Drawer Boy’

Using theatre posters, teachers’ packs, programmes, reviews and photographs, this exhibition celebrates both companies and their use of theatre to entertain, intrigue, and teach over the last 40 years. The displays showcasing theatre for children and young people, theatre for rural communities, and building communities investigate how these different but equally passionate companies have inspired and moved audiences. Despite the challenges of operating in non-theatre spaces from classrooms to caravans and their constant funding battles, both continue to shape the cultural and social life of communities across the East Midlands.

The exhibition runs until 3rd May and is accompanied by a series of talks. All talks are free of charge and take place from 1pm-2pm at the Djanogly Theatre at Lakeside Arts Centre. Places are limited so please book in advance with the Box Office on 0115 846 7777.

Tuesday 20 January
“It’s good for them to be involved!” Participatory Theatre-in-Education

Andrew Breakwell was Director of Roundabout and Education at Nottingham Playhouse 1999–2012. During his time there, he transformed the department so that alongside the traditional tours of curriculum-orientated plays to schools, the Playhouse offered a wide range of participation and learning opportunities that placed theatre at the heart of the community.

Wednesday 25 March
Pride of Place: Theatre in Rural Communities

How many opportunities are presented to us … if we make our work in the spaces that people already inhabit? This talk by Gavin Stride, former Director of New Perspectives, explores the relationships between place and the making of theatre for rural audiences throughout New Perspectives’ 40-year history. Is theatre made, and received, differently in rural settings where the stage is one end of the village hall or church nave?

Thursday 30 April
Local Acts: Performing Communities

Guest curator Dr Jo Robinson will draw on objects and images from the exhibition, and from the larger archives of both companies, to examine the different ways in which New Perspectives and Roundabout have worked to build communities in the East Midlands through diverse performances and venues from village halls and classrooms, to gypsy caravans and car showrooms.

All done!

We are very grateful to the current and former staff of both New Perspectives and Roundabout at Nottingham Playhouse for their support and for loaning us several items on display. The exhibition has been jointly curated by Dr Jo Robinson (Associate Professor of Drama and Performance in the School of English) and Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham. Jo’s current research, ‘Changing Communities: performance, engagement and place’, is a major project on theatre and community in the East Midlands from 1973. If you have been involved in local theatre and are willing to talk about your experiences, then please contact her.

Posted in Exhibitions