The National Theatre (Part II)

My first post ‘The National Theatre’ sparked off a couple of interesting debates, some fabulous passion and some really great advice from archivists all over the country so it felt only right when invited by Gavin Clarke to tour the National Theatre’s archives that I should go! I had such a fantastic time and my interest in pursuing archiving as a career has only been increased by viewing this great archive.

The archive is based in Waterloo/Southwark and is conveniently placed next door to The Old Vic, it was able to move here from Brixton three years ago after a generous grant from a National Lottery grant via The Arts Council. A happy day for Gavin (the National Theatre’s archivist) who told me that archives often rely on these types of grants to survive. The building is fantastic, the National Theatre’s audio – visual collection is accessible through high tech Apple Macs laid out in a bright, relaxing space surrounded by windows looking over one of London’s most creative areas. I was also shown large spaces that are provided for actors and directors to use and bring many of the National’s greatest plays to life, rooms packed with state of the art technology for filming and made a lovely cup of tea in a comfortable staff room.

One of the highlights of the tour for me was being taken into a lecture room (usually used to promote the importance of archives to students) and being shown clips from a play called ‘Warhorse’. A play that started at the National Theatre that has now crossed over to the West end. All the National’s plays have been filmed since 1995 and are now filmed digitally using numerous cameras at different angles so that eventually the play can be cut and pasted (using the best digital shots) to make a kind of movie out of the play. Gavin was aware that you have to be very cautious when manipulating a play that was never intended to be a film when using this technology and always makes sure an original copy of the play, filmed from one angle (wide shot) is also kept in the archives. I found this very interesting as I used to work for a post – production company and never would I have thought to link the two professions together. I LOVED that I could. This has just encouraged my interest in digital archiving which I have now found out is actually offered as a separate MA in both Glasgow and London (Kings College).

Eventually I was shown the ‘proper’ archive which was in the basement of the building. It was cluttered, Gavin finds it hard to keep up with all the donations, but fabulous. I really enjoyed looking at the set model for the first ever show at the National Theatre (when it was still in The Old Vic) – ‘Hamlet’ directed by Laurence Olivier and starring Peter O’Toole. A new adaptation of ‘Hamlet’ is also currently showing. Every single play that has ever been put on at the National has its own box and in each box is often a huge array of things including programmes, directors notes and cast lists. I saw posters (I even got to take two home), correspondence between national Theatre directors and their famous staff, more set models and old audio reels. I was really interested in finding out how old fashioned audio reels are digitized and the National Theatre’s archive has the technology though Gavin said that it can be a lengthy process. It was the most technology savvy archive that I have ever visited and it really showed how archives can really keep up with modern technology when they have a bit of money behind them.

So, maybe I didn’t get my ‘dream’ job at the National Theatre – as I’m sure some of you will remember I didn’t even get an interview – but I got the most fantastic tour and I did make a new friend in Gavin. All things which I am sure you will agree; are a step in the right direction!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Charlotte across the road
    Oct 16, 2010 @ 13:21:34

    get best buds with that gavin guy hol he sounds like a good connection


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