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The final research project will
take me home to my own company, St Patrick’s Choral Society in Downpatrick. For
this project it is my aim to create an online exhibition of sorts whereby I can
outline the history of the society in a visual format. I feel that this is the
best approach for a project such as this as much of my source material will
include photographs and scanned material such as newspaper articles and
programme inserts.


In order to fulfil my research, I
have set myself a series of questions in what I will be asking. I will start by
asking What defines amateur musical theatre? I feel that it is
relevant to make the distinction between amateur and professional quite early
on in my research process so that there is no confusion should I need to refer
to professional practice to when applying context. This question will not only
define the term amateur in terms of my study, but it will also define the term
in line with how the majority of my research participants interpret it.

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Next I will ask, When
was the first known amateur dramatic group/choral society formed in Ireland?
This is a rather open ended question which will take longer to answer and
indeed it may not be answerable at all, however I predict that only as I reach
the end of my research will I be able to come up with a viable answer to this
question if any.


How did these organisations begin
to evolve? Equally as important as the establishment of such amateur
societies, is the longevity of them. I am keen to find out, what made these
organisations thrive and expand? I also hope to use archives to determine the
rate of growth throughout Ireland by looking at the number of registered
societies in 1960 for example versus today. To explore this, I plan on
referencing the archives of A.I.M.S (The Association Of Irish Musical
Societies), the body in Ireland to which these organisations would register
their affiliation. This is something that I hope to gain greater understanding
of through interviews mostly. I feel that personal accounts are likely to be
the best source of information to determine an answer to this question.


How have political events
effected/influenced the establishment of such organisations? Of course
here I am referring to the most obvious period of conflict in Northern Ireland,
the Troubles, however I am curious to find out if any other forms of political
conflict may have had any impact positive or negative on the growth of musical
theatre culture in Ireland. I am realistic to the fact that such events may
have had minimal to no effect on the running of these organisations, however I
am interested in exploring audience records from various theatre across
Northern Ireland to see if there was a noticeable dip in the numbers attending
performances during times of conflict, and also once again the A.I.M.S archives
may indicate possible influence/impact depending on the number of registered
societies before, during and after the period of conflict.



What is
Theatre Historiography?


“Until well into the 1960s, the
terms ‘theatre studies’ and ‘theatre history’ were largely synonymous, because
the first and major concern of the new subject was the theatrical past.”1
Today however, theatre history would not be the exclusive field of research or
teaching, historical study still remains an important area of work. My work so
far has led me to focus on understanding the most important methods and
research patterns engaged by theatre historians. I have attempted to highlight
the most common sources often employed by historians as well as the different
types of information that they provide. This focus on questions of theory meant
that I was not necessarily looking at definite periods of theatre history such
as the Shakespearean or Greek theatre, but instead at the problems and planning
involved in the writing of it, which is known as historiography.


As an academic discipline, theatre
history has seldom had a high profile, possibly because the demand for theatre
historians would appear to be on the decline. That being said, there are still
scholars around the world who engage actively in the study of theatre history
meaning that new approaches are still being introduced from time to time.
Theatre historians like to date their discipline from the Theatriké Historia or
King Juba II of Mauretania. This was a large work that was devoted entirely to
all matters associated with the stage. We no longer have access to this work,
and like our knowledge of theatre history itself, its existence is based upon
indirect evidence and speculation. Between this early time (ca. 50 B.C.-ca. A.D
23) and the sixteenth century, theatre history was rarely the forefront of
discussion, that’s not to say that scholarly work wasn’t being produced,
however only a fraction of what could have existed has made its way through the
history books.2


We are very much aware of the
extensive history behind ancient Greek and Roman theatre however my work will
take us a few centuries ahead of these ancient periods. Thankfully there is now
a large body of literature outlining how students and scholars should approach
theatre history research and writing, and by now dissecting these literatures I
hope to now summarise, evaluate and ultimately employ some of the proposed
methodology into my own work.



Writing and Rewriting National Theatre Histories – Wilmer

The first text that I read was Wilmer’s Writing and Rewriting National Theatre
Histories. I found this both intriguing and enlightening. Off the cusp, the
book deals with approaches of writing theatre history based upon the changing
factors within different countries. It was a good starting point as it clearly
outlined to me the most basic principles behind theatre historiography from an
early stage in the book, however it was clearly presented so that it avoided
causing any confusion or overlapping given that I was only being introduced to
the ideas for the first time. The opening chapters present a series of
thought provoking questions that encouraged me to think outside of the realms
of historical analysis as I thought I knew them, and open my mind to new
concepts and issues that are common in the study of theatre historiography.

The first main question Wilmer asks


What is the meaning of history,
and what is the purpose of studying it?


Essentially here I was forced to
think on a rudimentary level to understand that it would be almost impossible
to understand the term ‘theatre history’ if was unable to define the basic
principles of history itself, for history in my eyes is a rather strange
concept. We all understand what history envelopes, however do we ever consider
just how subjective it can be? I am reminded here of a phrase that I often
heard throughout my childhood; ‘Just
because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real’, and I suppose we can
adapt this concept to the realms of history, for I didn’t witness World War II
yet sufficient evidence leaves no doubt in my mind that the events took place.
However if the evidence did not exist, would we still believe it based upon
stories passed down through generations? This is where the concept becomes
subjective, and I only feel the need to refer to this because much of my
‘evidence’ will likely be presented for the first time and potentially through
process of interview, therefore I had to take a clear stance on what
constitutes history in relation to my research.


“Is world
history, then, a kind of theatre history, the philosophical study of which must
inevitably lead to enlightenment about the infinite perfectibility of the human


To write a theatre history, surely
we must be able to then answer the question What
is the meaning of theatre history, and what is the purpose of studying it? However
this brings about a number of difficulties. Firstly how do we define the object
of our study? In my case this would be the definition of amateur theatre. And
beyond that, what counts as theatre? This is a difficult question because
theatre in a broad sense is a collaborative form of art using live performers,
however in the context of my research we are referring to a specific type of
theatre. For musical theatre by definition is “an ambitious form of
entertainment, since it relies upon a combination of disciplines.”4 In
the twenty-first century, there are so many new forms of contemporary theatre
being evolved that even the most unsuspecting forms of activity could be
classed as theatre, so it is vital to make the definite distinction of what the
term theatre means in the context of my own work.


The concept of theatre is being
constantly broadened when we consider how it was during the avant-garde movements
in the early decades of the twentieth century. Political theatre had become a
weapon for activists, however theatre in the broadest sense, could incorporate
any definition of performance and the rediscovery of ‘ritual theatre’ in
1960’s/70’s highlighted just how obscure the term theatre could evolve to.
Helmer Schramm said, “wherever someone put him – or herself, someone else, or
something on show, consciously presenting a person or object to the gaze of
others, people spoke of theatre.”5


Wilmer also suggests that you
cannot explore the history of theatre in a specific field, without first
identifying and taking into account, the historical happenings that surround
the events. For Example, did the terrorism acts of the 1950’s/60’s effect how
people in Northern Ireland chose to view, attend theatre due to fear? Well that
is yet to be seen, however what I did take away from these opening remarks was
the realisation that, every scholar has his/her own opinion on what is relevant
or irrelevant to their work and therefore history in the concept of my research
will be exactly what I decide it should be based upon its required purpose, the
principals of history itself never changes, what changes is the subject matter
that one might present as historically significant.





“Everyone must delimit the subject area of
their theatre history in accordance with their specific epistemological
interests and competence, select the events that are likely to be productive in
terms of the questions they are asking, and construct their history from their
examination of the documents related to these events” 6


So perhaps the best way to present
a specific field of theatre history, is to explore it in a refined environment,
only taking into account, where necessary, other surrounding
historical/political factors that may have influenced the refined topic at one
given time.


Further into the text, Wilmer
suggests that when writing about the history of a particular nation, then you can
break it down into four categories: Geography, Language, Ethnicity and



Where geography is concerned Wilmer
suggest that where a countries borders have changed through time, a historian
must determine whether to represent the nation with todays borders or previous
decades borders.  He must also decide
upon how much of the theatre activity should be based upon a nations capital,
or regions. Many historians focus on the theatre activity within a main capital
and disregard outside regions, however in my own field of research it is the
smaller regions that lie almost more important than the capitals, for it is
there tucked away in the corners that we unearth the town halls and community
theatre groups.


In Dublin for example, historians
tend to bypass popular theatres such as the Gaiety or Olympia, and turn solely
to the National Concert Hall (National Theatre). This is because the national
theatre takes on the role of representing the national culture, even if the
state is not independent. So regardless of the production standard, be it
professional or amateur, the national theatre best represented the appreciation
of theatre within a nation.


Theatrical events that are
performed in the native language are given greater predominance in terms of
national history than those in a secondary language.

I personally look at drama as
monolingual especially if we account opera as an early form of musical theatre,
however I see relevance to the point.. Where Ireland did face this issue was
notably in the Abbey Theatre where upon actors where contracted to speak both
Irish and English on the same stage, up until the 1980’s when this was phased
out. Admitadly though, the idea of language does not play any relevance to my
current research.



Ethnicity in Ireland is an tender
subject. How do historians categorise which ethnic groups feature in a national
theatre history? In the case of American history, these decisions can cause
political implications when deciding whether or not to include the
contributions of the African-American community and also the indigenous peoples.7
Whilst this decision may appear more apparent in recent years, there was a time
before the civil rights movement when this distinction was not as easy to


In Ireland, we face a rather unique
perspective on ethnicity. The nationalist community firmly believe that they
are a distinct homogeneous Celtic people. However we must take into
consideration that Ireland was once part of Britain and in some provinces of
the country, Notably in Northern Ulster, there are minorities who still
consider themselves British whilst others would call themselves Irish. Historians
must decide how they intend to incorporate the British contributions to Irish
theatre, and visa versa because of the rather important distinction made
between the Irish and British people.



Finally, what specifically is your
research addressing? In my case, the focus is Musical Theatre as the genre or
performance mode. My research will also focus slightly more upon amateur
theatre and only reference the professional scene where necessary to show
progression. Wilmer writes, “Generally, national theatre histories (e.g., in
Ireland, Finland and Slovenia) have privileged professional rather than amateur
performance” 8 I
would disagree as there are on average 2 amateur productions taking place for
every one professional.9 This
statement minimises the already marginal cultures in society who cannot afford
to or do not wish to produce their productions professionally, i.e. amateur
dramatic companies.


In summary, Wilmer’s book is both
engaging and concise. I feel that the methods outlined here whilst very
relevant and certainly insightful, are a little rigid. The four categories for
example will prove quite useful I’m sure, however I feel that if I was to use
these methods as the sole framework of my research then perhaps I would find
them slightly delimiting to say the least. I must also take into consideration
that I am dealing with a collection of essays, some written 20 years ago so I
think it would be fair to say that how w view and write about history can no
doubt evolve over a twenty year period. This aside, I still found this an
excellent stepping stone and a perfect book to start with.

1 Balme, C. B. (2008) The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 96


2 Postlewait, T. and McConachie, B. A. (1989) Interpreting The Theatrical Past: Essays in the Historiography of
Performance, 2nd
edn., Iowa: University of Iowa Press. pp.2.


3 Page 1

4 White, M. (1999) Staging A Musical, London: A & C
Black Ltd. pp.2

5 Helmar Schramm, “Theatralität und Öffenlichkeit: Vorstudien zur
Begriffsgeschichte von ‘Theatre.’ in Karlheinz Barck et al., eds., Ästhetische Grundbegriffe: Studien zu einem
historischen Wörterbuch (Berlin: Akad.-Verlag, 1990) p.206

6 Notes section 8


8 Wilmer p. 24

9 Based upon a cross reference of
theatre events listings from both websites of The National Concert Hall, Dublin
and A.I.MS.

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