Pencil drawings found next to script drafts of ‘The Bridge'

July 21, 2022, by Sarah Colborne

Matt Marks archive collection: ‘The Bridge’ and how it came to be

This is a guest post by Aldea Toth, 2nd year English undergraduate at UoN who completed a student placement working on the archive of Matt Marks. 

When I was volunteering at the Manuscripts and Special Collections Department, I had the pleasure of archiving the works of the late Matt Marks, who was once a student here at the University of Nottingham doing a postgraduate course in music composition. Throughout my volunteering, it wasn’t difficult to see the amount of enthusiasm and love with which Matt Marks approached every one of his projects. However, the development of one production in particular caught my eye. It was Matt Marks’ 2009 original musical theatre collaboration with Liv Cummins titled ‘The Bridge’. 

Photograph of Matt Marks standing on the Brooklyn Bridge

Photograph of Matt Marks standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, MMM ACC3032 Box 13 /1, 1998-2009

There are many famous bridges all around the world that are of great cultural and historical significance, but the one Matt Marks explored in this piece was none other than the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. This historical drama piece explores the feat of building the Brooklyn Bridge, and the skills, intelligence and determination of a woman called Emily Roebling, without whom the Brooklyn Bridge would never have been finished. Her husband was the lead engineer in charge of constructing the Brooklyn Bridge, and after he fell ill, Emily took over leading the construction and relaying messages from her husband to the builders.  

Photograph of Emily Roebling’s memorial plaque on the Brooklyn Bridge

Photograph of Emily Roebling’s memorial plaque on the Brooklyn Bridge taken during Matt Mark’s stay in New York, MMM ACC3032 Box 13 /1, 1998-2009

Admittedly, I knew very little about the Brooklyn Bridge and its history before working with this collection, so it was fascinating to be able to go through the musical scores and scripts Matt had prepared to retell this story. And while I was going through box after box of new material, the creative process which birthed this musical theatre collaboration showcased the very interesting ways in which Matt Marks actualised his ideas and concepts for the stage and music. For example, there are clear ways the visual had informed the music. Matt’s artistry was not restricted to the musical. In fact, he was also a great at drawing and sketching. All of which can be seen in his illustrations alongside scripts and lyrics and the like. After all, why be boring and just have stage directions when you can actually show what needs to be seen? For me, sketchbooks of all shapes and sizes come to mind. The spines of each bent and tattered in the most loving manner, showing their importance to Matt’s creative process. And inside you would find sketches upon sketches of the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York landscape which it reaches across. Whether these sketches were a way to establish the mood and tone of a certain scene or to find the emotional qualities that the music had to evoke, they clearly show the ways in which Matt’s creativity was always at use and busy. Whether that was in a moment alone when an idea would strike him, or whether that was during rehearsals and workshops when new ways to experiment with the music would occur to him.  

Pencil drawings found next to script drafts of ‘The Bridge'

Pencil drawings found next to script drafts of ‘The Bridge’, MMM ACC3032 Box 9 /5, 1998-2009

For a more historical piece like ‘The Bridge’, Matt did his research. And the visual can be seen in that as well. In older photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge from before, during, and after its construction, Matt’s pen had taken the liberty to add little figures along the bridge, placing them in different poses and locations. This is very indicative of the way Matt likely worked with visualising what would be on stage and what the audience would see, as well as designing the promotional posters and pamphlets which would introduce the piece to potential viewers. Where would certain characters stand in this scene and that? What different ways could you style the scenery? All experimented with by the simple ways a pen can add new life to an old photograph. Like the way Emily Roebling dedicated her time and effort to the creation of the Brooklyn Bridge, Matt Marks has embodied that same spirit through his creativity in constructing ‘The Bridge’ and its music.  

Promotional pamphlet for the production of ‘The Bridge’

Promotional pamphlet for the production of ‘The Bridge’, MMM ACC3032 Box 9 /8, 2009

To conclude this little blog post, I think one of the greatest takeaways that I have from archiving this collection was being reminded how storytelling – whether you do it through words, music, or on a theatre stage – is powerful. Powerful in how it can bring back the past; how it can take history and refocus it to reveal something new; and how the creativity of one individual can achieve so much and go so far.  

Work is continuing on cataloguing Matt Mark’s archive. To find out more about our collections at Manuscripts and Special Collections, visit our website, follow us on Twitter or Instagram, or read our newsletter Discover. To book an appointment in the Reading Room, please email us

Posted in CataloguingGuest blogs