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Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Show and Tell

Here’s an update from Rob Fellman, our resident researcher, who is undertaking a collaborative PhD with us and the University of Sheffield.

Show and Tell

It has been some time since my introductory post, back when I began my journey as Third Angel’s researcher-in-residence. It is fair to say that rather a lot has happened since then! I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a bit of time working in the Third Angel archive between national lockdowns. It became a little safe haven from the very present crisis in the world outside, where I could escape amongst the pages of well-worn notebooks and in the translucent spaces between glossy slides of old photographic film.

Photographic negatives from the archive

As a brief aside, I have also recently been working on a national initiative that teaches secondary school pupils about all kinds of University-level topics. My course teaches them all manner of fun things about theatre archives, documentation, and ephemera… I am biased, of course, though I prefer to use the term ‘passionate’! I have always been interested in how archives exist in-and-around the theatre, as an otherwise live medium. Together with my students we have recently been asking whether, perhaps, a performance is an archive of sorts? And equally so, is the reverse of this also true: do archives ‘perform’? (I wonder, at least, whether their ghosts do?)

An unused prop - there are loads of these

At various times during 2020 I had been writing quite extensively about Third Angel’s Class of ’76. In this show, Alex is the solo performer and Rachael the director. Third Angel guide their audience between a nostalgic reflection of Alex’s own childhood, his current practice as a theatre maker, and his research into the life stories of his fellow classmates. At other times, akin to a classroom activity of show-and-tell, Alex introduces his audience to objects from his childhood, such as a toy army soldier and a set of marbles.

Following on from my writing about Class of ’76, I set about on my adventure in the archive, simultaneously playing archaeologist-detective, sifting through dusty boxes in the hope of finding some clues (to what, I didn’t yet know). As I worked my way along the shelves I uncovered items from various versions of the show, items mentioned in the show (such as a very retro-styled CD cover for ‘find-a-friend’ software), and letters written between Alex and his former classmates.

Class of ‘76 in performance

These items began to add to my appreciation of the show, evidencing and confirming the stories Third Angel had told their audience. I realise now, from the very physical and tactile experience of the archive, that Class of ’76 is as much a performance as it is a dispersed collection of memories, images and objects that are brought (back) together to tell a story-of-stories. It also occurs to me that, on some level, memories are images; stories are memory. Objects are three-dimensional images, physical traces of the past: earthly anchors for the ghosts of memory. As I write this it dawns on me, that all of this, is what an archive is…

Some of those props from the show

I plan to keep you updated on this blog with further musings and discoveries. I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you. If you are interested in keeping a closer eye on what I am up to, you can find me on Twitter @Rob_Fellman so please do feel free to connect with me on there.

Watch this space…

A few months ago we were delighted to hear that our application to jointly host a PhD with Sheffield University was successful, and that Rob Fellman would be joining us to start his work on “Contemporary theatre-making and company longevity: technologies of creation, collaboration and remembering” this autumn. We’re looking forward to working with Rob, and very excited to see what he finds in our archive - both literally and analytically! So, slightly later than planned, we’d like to introduce him. Or rather, let him introduce himself…


By way of a brief introduction, my name is Rob and I am a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. I recently started working on something called a ‘collaborative doctoral award’. These ‘CDA’s’ (as they are more simply named) reflect changing approaches within Higher Education institutions and funding bodies alike, to enact a more integrated form of academic learning; positioning researchers alongside partner organisations to produce mutually beneficial outcomes.  

It all sounds rather formal put that way, but it essentially means that over the next three years I have the unique pleasure of working with Third Angel, as a collaborator of sorts. I will be beginning my journey by looking into the archived materials that Alex, Rachael and their past creative collaborators have produced during formative rehearsals, whilst also looking ahead to what might still be to come… There are many possibilities that can arise from the reflection and evaluation of the past, that might unearth an essence or ‘trace’ of what Third Angel contribute to the field of contemporary theatre (and indeed what importance they are still yet to play). I am intrigued to find out what relationships exist between the knowledge contained in Third Angel’s archive and the knowledge held by its members and collaborators. How might Third Angel’s approach to ‘collecting’ and ‘retelling’ be considered, especially in view of their company’s longevity (approaching 25 years in action)? 

The recent book launch of ‘There’s A Room’ (you can read the recent blog post on this here for a bit more context) marks a defining moment in Third Angel’s journey. Its release acts as a commitment. Just as their words are committed to paper, so too are they reaffirming a commitment to the sharing and openness that has characterised much of their creative practice to date. Third Angel are, by their very nature, a collaborative company and the texts of ‘There’s A Room’ are no exception. Alongside Rachael and Alex the likes of Jerry Killick, mala voadora and Chris Thorpe knowingly make their marks on its pages, whilst unnamed others may (or may not) have contributed in a multitude of different ways; in stories shared, in chance meetings, or in simply being in the wrong place at the right time… Third Angel are masters of observation, so anything could make it in!



What then of all the collaborators to come; readers and performers of these texts (you? Me?) through which the legacy of Third Angel can be breathed a lasting life; their stories once again re-told and re-imagined? My research hopes to engage with some of these (admittedly broad!) questions. I hope to find out how collaborative work impacts on the potential for longevity in the arts sector that Third Angel so wonderfully embody – is it true that there is a strength in numbers?  

I plan to keep you updated on this blog with some of my findings, both with attempts at answers to the questions posed above, as well as some exciting discoveries from the archive (we hope)! I look forward to sharing my journey with you. If you are interested in keeping a closer eye on what I am up to, you can find me on Twitter @Rob_Fellman so please do feel free to connect with me on there. Oh, and if you haven’t got your copy of ‘There’s A Room’ yet, you can grab yours here!  

Watch this space…

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