Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Archive of Twentieth-Century Welsh Theatre

Glamorgan University is currently setting up an archive of twentieth-century Welsh theatre.

An Archive for the future

Glamorgan University is currently setting up an archive of twentieth-century Welsh theatre. This is a new venture, marking the end of one of the most significant periods in Welsh history: one characterised by the decline of Welsh as the common language, its partial recovery, the loss of heavy industries and the rebirth of a national consciousness.

The archive aims to establish a comprehensive collection of primary and secondary materials ranging from theatre scripts and video material to reviews and interviews. It should benefit both professional and academic groups: an awareness of earlier experiments enriches the possibilities of the present, while the provision of basic information and resources allows for the critical attention which is necessary for exciting and innovative practice. We believe that, with the coming of the National Assembly and the advent of a new millennium, there will be an increasing interest in national identity and its expression in theatre.

The fate of theatre within Wales during this period mirrors that of the nation. Starting from a basis in amateur Welsh language groups and English touring companies, the century saw a flurry of building and conversion work in the nineteen-seventies. New, and often experimental, companies served the new range of Welsh venues that resulted, producing a radically different theatrical environment to that of England. This is now part of the heritage of an emerging nation.

Theatre is not merely entertainment. At the end of the century we do, of course, want to see 'good' theatre but questions should be raised about we mean by that judgement. Glamorgan Archive of Twentieth Century Welsh Theatre seeks to protect the varied material of this century and to provide an invaluable resource for the future development of drama in Wales.

To any theatre company in Wales:

I am currently in the process of establishing an archive of Twentieth Century Welsh Theatre at Glamorgan University. The aim of this project is to gather together resources and scripts, videos etc, in order to provide a resource for the future. Because we are more interested in providing a centralised, catalogued and accessible store of material we are not interested in holding original material. The National Library is advising companies to deposit material safely within the various county archives for future historians; our projected collection has a different agenda, seeking to sustain and stimulate present theatre by providing it with a base and record of its achievement. We are happy to have a central collection of copies just so that this material can be easily accessed.

I feel very strongly that, without this kind of resource, theatre in Wales - and, since much of the experimental theatre in particular has toured extensively outside Wales, Welsh theatre in the rest of the world will be impoverished. Projects such as those of Small World, or ELAN (still running) or Magdalena (now gone), or Brith Gof (seeking private funding), which seek to empower both individuals and communities and to establish links between disparate areas, are significant cultural signs. Similarly significant is the new writing commissioned by both new writing companies (Made in Wales, Dalier Sylw, Sherman) and the smaller companies, equally threatened by the Drama Strategy. Their presence indicates the wider health of a nation: their absence marks the disappearance of whole sets of possibilities and the accompanying establishment of a diminished world. This doesn't mean that all theatre should be experimental - but it does mean that it should question. The undercutting of community/TIE projects is part of that same diminution of possibilities, that drive to normalise. Seeking to establish resources that record past marginal activity is one of many ways in which the move towards a diminished world can be challenged.

I feel very strongly that recognition of the space of theatre is the mark of a genuine democracy. Should the Assembly only concern itself with economics divorced from any recognition of issues of value then it will only function as an administrative satellite of Westminster, presiding over a yet further provincialisation of Wales rather than heralding its emancipation, its movement towards self-determination. I believe that theatre is central to the ritualised exploration of alternatives, enshrining the possibility of change within a given structure. Without a space for the recognition of difference we have the implicit violence of fixed and polarised positions. Matthew Arnold claimed that 'art is the way not only to [individual] perfection but to safety'. Dealing with both individuals and groups, the explorations of theatre signal to me that this is the most perfect of arts.

The ACW seems to have no clear idea of what the function of theatre may be - it is only interested in the economics of a situation which already reflects the passivity of the dispossessed in the shrinking audiences of live theatre. I recently received a letter from Paul Flynn claiming that more subsidies would only slow the inevitable demise of live theatre: this was not in response to a plea for more subsidy but to an expression of concern about the inadequacy of the ACW drama strategy. I find these words from a politician quite horrifying - especially from the left wing. Theatre is one step further towards an awareness of democracy in action, for cultural imagination, not economics, is what marks out a nation from a poor relation.

So this letter is an attempt to make links with theatre companies in Wales and to alert you all to the archive in Glamorgan, hoping that you will be interested, will wish to contribute and to offer further ideas. As it is only now being set up any ideas will be gratefully received.

Jeni Williams

Archive of Twentieth Century Welsh Theatre,
University of Glamorgan,
CF37 1DL
01443 483404

author:Jeni Williams

original source: Jeni Williams
02 February 2000


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