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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…

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