Monday, 14 July 2014

A trip to to the North

Last week APAC had its first event since I became secretary and we headed up to Leeds.  Here we visited two very beautiful and very different theatres: City Varieties Music Hall and The Grand Theatre and Opera House.  

City Varieties Music Hall
The former, the scene for ‘The Good Old Days’ through the 1950s to 1980s, has recently reopened after a huge HLF funded refurbishment.  Painstaking effort has been put into recreating the theatre as it would have been in the early 1900s with wooden velvet-covered seats, gas lamps now powered by electricity and a painted ceiling.  One of the most interesting additions has been the soundscape, which the Learning department has designed to recreate the atmosphere back in the days when thousands of people piled into this small theatre after a day in the mines.  It really does give a different perspective to the silence of theatre that we are so used to nowadays.  Apparently school groups are particularly appreciative as it transforms the static theatre into the hive of activity it used to be.  

We then moved over to the Grand Theatre, which has also been undergoing a refurbishment with original tiles uncovered throughout the theatre.  This is a far more ‘grand’ affair and, what struck me in particular, was how much more space there was in both of the theatres compared to the West End theatres I am used to in London.  There you can get quite severe vertigo if you are in the cheap seats at the top.  Here, however, the rake of seating is far more smooth and there is impressive leg room as the taller among us noted!

Grand Theatre
The highlight of the day was really meeting the volunteers, who have been assisting the Learning team with the Archive for the past 3 years.  The volunteers were recruited through the West Yorkshire Archive Service.  A few of the volunteers spoke about their projects and why they are so enjoying the experience.  They exchange skills and learn new ones while working on a subject that they are all passionate about, whether they are theatre goers or practitioners.  A particularly interesting point was that they are able to work on the collections to much greater detail than a paid member of staff would be able to do.  This really struck me as we are all pressed for time and have limited resources in terms of staff and yet here are volunteers relishing the opportunity really to blitz collections to item level.  Meeting this hardy group of volunteers showed the benefits of having long-term volunteers, who come in for a short period of time per week.  At the NT, we run short full-time volunteer opportunities for those wishing to undertake the MA in Archives.  I think we should really consider how we could benefit a slow and steady approach alongside this.  

Something else that was interesting was that the archive came under the Learning department's jurisdiction, as it does at the NT.  In Leeds, however, the Learning department were presented with a disordered archive which had not been catalogued or used at all and it fell to the Learning staff to make the most of it.  This is a different perspective to the NT where the Archive was not always part of Learning but has sat in the Directors' office and under the General Manager before finally coming to rest in its current home.  In Leeds, they are using the archive for all kinds of outreach activities and this is the focus of their approach to the cataloguing.  It is really helpful to see which departments other archives are linked to and see what sort of relationships we can forge at the NT.  I'd like our work to more linked to the Learning syllabus and, as there is enthusiasm on both sides, hopefully we'll get this happening soon!

I also went to the Coronation Street set in Manchester!
In other news:

I have made the step up to Archivist of the NT and am getting to grips with a permanent position and the thrill of being able to plan further ahead then a few months!

I have been seeing so much theatre that I shock myself.  Surprisingly, I am not getting saturated with it but I am actually getting better at being in the audience.  When I moved to London, going to the theatre was quite difficult for me, I found it hard to concentrate for that long a period without doing other things.  Now, I am finding it easier to switch off and appreciate what I am seeing for what it is.  I have had a run of pretty good shows and I am beginning to sprinkle my usual NT serving with some West End shows and fringe theatre to get quite a cross section of London’s offering.  I’m basically still in awe of anyone who can remember a whole script and deliver it in front of an audience!

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