Thursday, 30 July 2015

Royal Albert Hall Archives

I have just spent a very enjoyable afternoon at the Royal Albert Hall, being shown round by their two lovely archivists.  As a 'holding house', the Hall has slightly different archives to the National Theatre but there are more similarities than differences.  

We both use the CALM database as well as CALMView and it has been really helpful to compare experiences with the software and to see how they have re-branded the front end to make a user friendly and attractive interface.  They also have a some really great interactive features on their new website (like this and especially this), which I heartily encourage you to try out!

The Archive has recently been coming to the fore in Hall projects such as Learning events, merchandise and tours.  They have a specific tour focused on the secret history of the Hall, which has content drawn directly from the Archive.  There is great enthusiasm at the Hall to include the Archive in projects and this is a really healthy and encouraging sight.

A shot from the Hall the last time I visited

As an archive of a 'holding house' they do not hold material on the process of creating performances like we do.  They have the booking plans, programme, poster, photographs and then reports from the evening for front of house and on stage activities.  In this way they have the whole story of a performance, of which they obviously have many more than the NT (they have 14,000 programmes alone!).  A lot of the other work of the Hall, such as the set-up of shows, is done by external companies and so it not represented in the Archive, nor is it sought after so the focus is on programmes, press and reports from the production itself.

I was delighted to see that they have a Souvenir book of a fundraising event for the National Theatre back when it was a mere idea and supported by the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee.  This fundraising event welcomed in the great and the good of the 1910s all of whom were given Shakespearean characters to dress up as and the souvenir book is a beautiful collection of paintings, drawings and prints of the lords and ladies in their costumes.  There were also several heads of state present as it was held a few days before the Coronation.  Really quite something!

Shot of the acoustic mushrooms

I was struck by the sheer diversity of what happens at the Hall.  Currently the Proms are on, which are well known, but they also have a dining week where a false floor is erected and the Hall transforms into a giant dining room.  They have tennis tournaments, wrestling, circus acts and rock bands with many requirements not catered for when the building was built!  This Christmas they will be installing an ice rink to perform The Nutcracker on ice.  It is truly a fascinating building and the archivists are still coming across gems in their Archive.  They are working on cataloguing their material and digitising it so that more is accessible and I can only see this service going from strength to strength with its combination of historically fascinating subjects and institution-wide enthusiasm to engage with the material.

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