My first contact with the Shakespeare Institute was involvement in the Players 1997 production of All’s Well That Ends Well – the Director of the SI at the time commented “some bits were memorable, other bits of it I’m trying hard to forget!”. He may have possibly been referring to my attempt at the First Lord Dumaine (the first and only time I’ve donned a false beard!). Shakespeare worked his magic though and three marriages and many more lasting friendships arose from that production! Later I had fun as Jaquenetta in a great outdoor production of Love’s Labour’s Lost in the summer of 2000 directed by the legendary Dr Roberta Barker. So when I arrived to work at the SI Library I was pleased to see that we held the archive of the Players in our collections, including DVDs of past productions. Despite being an amateur group the SI Players are praised for the quality of their work and recently have gone on from strength-to-strength. Find out more about them on their web page. Our Library Support Assistant, Hannah Perrin found there was much to explore. (KB)
The Shakespeare Institute Players is the dramatic society for the postgraduate students of the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute and has been around in different guises since 1951! And here in the SI Library we have a wealth of material from past productions for you to lose yourself in.
One of the most valuable resources from past productions of any theatre is the prompt book and the Players archives have these in abundance. From a 1997 production of All’s Well that Ends Well to the What Larks! 2001 production of Hamlet, it is almost too easy to lose yourself in this vast treasure trove of notes, ideas and – in some cases – sheer organisation! Cast lists, lighting cues, plans of the stage, even the original audition forms; you can effectively plot the journey of the production from start to finish.
But prompt books are not the only gems hiding in the archives. There is an entire box of programs and leaflets from Players productions; from King John in 1997 to The Law of Love in 2011. There’s even the program from this year’s production of Pericles by Ketterer’s Men lurking in there! Also available is an album of production photos for the 1997 performance of All’s Well that Ends Well, a video of the What Larks! 2001 production of Hamlet and the soundtrack to a production of Much Ado about Nothing.
But it’s not just Shakespeare. Over the years the Players have done works by other Renaissance dramatists; their very first production in 1953 was A Yorkshire Tragedy, now attributed to Thomas Middleton; and there are various resources in our archive relating to these non-Shakespeare productions, for example the 1999 production of Taming of a Shrew.
Speaking as an avid member of the Players, it is a real treat to go through this wealth of history and I urge any and all members of the Players, and others, to do the same, even if it’s just a quick browse. If you are planning on doing your own Shakespearean production for the Players, or indeed any other amateur theatre company, come and have a look through the archive and I guarantee you’ll be brimming with ideas within five minutes.
Hannah Perrin, Library Support Assistant, Shakespeare Institute Library (Alumna of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham)
Also available at the SI Library are a number of books on amateur theatre, including the following:
Aebischer, Pascale and Prince, Kathryn; Performing early modern drama today; (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press); PN 2595.13.R4
Burton, Peter and Lane, John; New directions: ways of advance for the amateur theatre; (London: MacGibbon & Kee; 1970); PN 3151
Dobson, Michael; Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History; (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press); PR 3091
Matthew, Brian; Stage right: how to run an amateur theatre group; (London: A. and C. Black; 1975); PN 3151
Just type “amateur theatre” into FindIt and browse to your heart’s content! Enjoy!