The final research project willtake me home to my own company, St Patrick’s Choral Society in Downpatrick. Forthis project it is my aim to create an online exhibition of sorts whereby I canoutline the history of the society in a visual format.
I feel that this is thebest approach for a project such as this as much of my source material willinclude photographs and scanned material such as newspaper articles andprogramme inserts. In order to fulfil my research, Ihave set myself a series of questions in what I will be asking. I will start byasking What defines amateur musical theatre? I feel that it isrelevant to make the distinction between amateur and professional quite earlyon in my research process so that there is no confusion should I need to referto professional practice to when applying context. This question will not onlydefine the term amateur in terms of my study, but it will also define the termin line with how the majority of my research participants interpret it. Next I will ask, Whenwas the first known amateur dramatic group/choral society formed in Ireland?This is a rather open ended question which will take longer to answer andindeed it may not be answerable at all, however I predict that only as I reachthe end of my research will I be able to come up with a viable answer to thisquestion if any.
How did these organisations beginto evolve? Equally as important as the establishment of such amateursocieties, is the longevity of them. I am keen to find out, what made theseorganisations thrive and expand? I also hope to use archives to determine therate of growth throughout Ireland by looking at the number of registeredsocieties in 1960 for example versus today. To explore this, I plan onreferencing the archives of A.I.M.S (The Association Of Irish MusicalSocieties), the body in Ireland to which these organisations would registertheir affiliation.
This is something that I hope to gain greater understandingof through interviews mostly. I feel that personal accounts are likely to bethe best source of information to determine an answer to this question. How have political eventseffected/influenced the establishment of such organisations? Of coursehere 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 politicalconflict may have had any impact positive or negative on the growth of musicaltheatre culture in Ireland. I am realistic to the fact that such events mayhave had minimal to no effect on the running of these organisations, however Iam interested in exploring audience records from various theatre acrossNorthern Ireland to see if there was a noticeable dip in the numbers attendingperformances during times of conflict, and also once again the A.I.M.S archivesmay indicate possible influence/impact depending on the number of registeredsocieties before, during and after the period of conflict. What isTheatre Historiography? “Until well into the 1960s, theterms ‘theatre studies’ and ‘theatre history’ were largely synonymous, becausethe first and major concern of the new subject was the theatrical past.
“1Today however, theatre history would not be the exclusive field of research orteaching, historical study still remains an important area of work. My work sofar has led me to focus on understanding the most important methods andresearch patterns engaged by theatre historians. I have attempted to highlightthe most common sources often employed by historians as well as the differenttypes of information that they provide. This focus on questions of theory meantthat I was not necessarily looking at definite periods of theatre history suchas the Shakespearean or Greek theatre, but instead at the problems and planninginvolved in the writing of it, which is known as historiography. As an academic discipline, theatrehistory has seldom had a high profile, possibly because the demand for theatrehistorians would appear to be on the decline. That being said, there are stillscholars around the world who engage actively in the study of theatre historymeaning that new approaches are still being introduced from time to time.Theatre historians like to date their discipline from the Theatriké Historia orKing Juba II of Mauretania.
This was a large work that was devoted entirely toall 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 uponindirect evidence and speculation. Between this early time (ca. 50 B.C.-ca.
A.D23) and the sixteenth century, theatre history was rarely the forefront ofdiscussion, 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 thehistory books.2 We are very much aware of theextensive history behind ancient Greek and Roman theatre however my work willtake us a few centuries ahead of these ancient periods. Thankfully there is nowa large body of literature outlining how students and scholars should approachtheatre history research and writing, and by now dissecting these literatures Ihope to now summarise, evaluate and ultimately employ some of the proposedmethodology into my own work. Writing and Rewriting National Theatre Histories – WilmerThe first text that I read was Wilmer’s Writing and Rewriting National TheatreHistories. I found this both intriguing and enlightening.
Off the cusp, thebook deals with approaches of writing theatre history based upon the changingfactors within different countries. It was a good starting point as it clearlyoutlined to me the most basic principles behind theatre historiography from anearly stage in the book, however it was clearly presented so that it avoidedcausing any confusion or overlapping given that I was only being introduced tothe ideas for the first time. The opening chapters present a series ofthought provoking questions that encouraged me to think outside of the realmsof historical analysis as I thought I knew them, and open my mind to newconcepts and issues that are common in the study of theatre historiography.The first main question Wilmer asksis: What is the meaning of history,and what is the purpose of studying it? Essentially here I was forced tothink on a rudimentary level to understand that it would be almost impossibleto understand the term ‘theatre history’ if was unable to define the basicprinciples of history itself, for history in my eyes is a rather strangeconcept. We all understand what history envelopes, however do we ever considerjust how subjective it can be? I am reminded here of a phrase that I oftenheard throughout my childhood; ‘Justbecause we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real’, and I suppose we canadapt this concept to the realms of history, for I didn’t witness World War IIyet 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 uponstories passed down through generations? This is where the concept becomessubjective, 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 throughprocess of interview, therefore I had to take a clear stance on whatconstitutes history in relation to my research. “Is worldhistory, then, a kind of theatre history, the philosophical study of which mustinevitably lead to enlightenment about the infinite perfectibility of the humanrace?”3 To write a theatre history, surelywe must be able to then answer the question Whatis the meaning of theatre history, and what is the purpose of studying it? Howeverthis brings about a number of difficulties. Firstly how do we define the objectof our study? In my case this would be the definition of amateur theatre. Andbeyond that, what counts as theatre? This is a difficult question becausetheatre 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 oftheatre. For musical theatre by definition is “an ambitious form ofentertainment, since it relies upon a combination of disciplines.
“4 Inthe twenty-first century, there are so many new forms of contemporary theatrebeing evolved that even the most unsuspecting forms of activity could beclassed as theatre, so it is vital to make the definite distinction of what theterm theatre means in the context of my own work. The concept of theatre is beingconstantly broadened when we consider how it was during the avant-garde movementsin the early decades of the twentieth century. Political theatre had become aweapon for activists, however theatre in the broadest sense, could incorporateany definition of performance and the rediscovery of ‘ritual theatre’ in1960’s/70’s highlighted just how obscure the term theatre could evolve to.Helmer Schramm said, “wherever someone put him – or herself, someone else, orsomething on show, consciously presenting a person or object to the gaze ofothers, people spoke of theatre.”5 Wilmer also suggests that youcannot explore the history of theatre in a specific field, without firstidentifying and taking into account, the historical happenings that surroundthe events.
For Example, did the terrorism acts of the 1950’s/60’s effect howpeople in Northern Ireland chose to view, attend theatre due to fear? Well thatis yet to be seen, however what I did take away from these opening remarks wasthe realisation that, every scholar has his/her own opinion on what is relevantor irrelevant to their work and therefore history in the concept of my researchwill be exactly what I decide it should be based upon its required purpose, theprincipals of history itself never changes, what changes is the subject matterthat one might present as historically significant. “Everyone must delimit the subject area oftheir theatre history in accordance with their specific epistemologicalinterests and competence, select the events that are likely to be productive interms of the questions they are asking, and construct their history from theirexamination of the documents related to these events” 6 So perhaps the best way to presenta specific field of theatre history, is to explore it in a refined environment,only taking into account, where necessary, other surroundinghistorical/political factors that may have influenced the refined topic at onegiven time. Further into the text, Wilmersuggests that when writing about the history of a particular nation, then you canbreak it down into four categories: Geography, Language, Ethnicity andAesthetics. Geography Where geography is concerned Wilmersuggest that where a countries borders have changed through time, a historianmust determine whether to represent the nation with todays borders or previousdecades borders. He must also decideupon 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 capitaland disregard outside regions, however in my own field of research it is thesmaller regions that lie almost more important than the capitals, for it isthere tucked away in the corners that we unearth the town halls and communitytheatre groups.
In Dublin for example, historianstend to bypass popular theatres such as the Gaiety or Olympia, and turn solelyto the National Concert Hall (National Theatre). This is because the nationaltheatre takes on the role of representing the national culture, even if thestate is not independent. So regardless of the production standard, be itprofessional or amateur, the national theatre best represented the appreciationof theatre within a nation. LanguageTheatrical events that areperformed in the native language are given greater predominance in terms ofnational history than those in a secondary language.I personally look at drama asmonolingual 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 wasnotably in the Abbey Theatre where upon actors where contracted to speak bothIrish and English on the same stage, up until the 1980’s when this was phasedout. Admitadly though, the idea of language does not play any relevance to mycurrent research.
EthnicityEthnicity in Ireland is an tendersubject. How do historians categorise which ethnic groups feature in a nationaltheatre history? In the case of American history, these decisions can causepolitical implications when deciding whether or not to include thecontributions of the African-American community and also the indigenous peoples.7Whilst this decision may appear more apparent in recent years, there was a timebefore the civil rights movement when this distinction was not as easy tofacilitate. In Ireland, we face a rather uniqueperspective on ethnicity. The nationalist community firmly believe that theyare a distinct homogeneous Celtic people. However we must take intoconsideration that Ireland was once part of Britain and in some provinces ofthe country, Notably in Northern Ulster, there are minorities who stillconsider themselves British whilst others would call themselves Irish. Historiansmust decide how they intend to incorporate the British contributions to Irishtheatre, and visa versa because of the rather important distinction madebetween the Irish and British people.
Aesthetics Finally, what specifically is yourresearch addressing? In my case, the focus is Musical Theatre as the genre orperformance mode. My research will also focus slightly more upon amateurtheatre and only reference the professional scene where necessary to showprogression. Wilmer writes, “Generally, national theatre histories (e.g., inIreland, Finland and Slovenia) have privileged professional rather than amateurperformance” 8 Iwould disagree as there are on average 2 amateur productions taking place forevery one professional.9 Thisstatement minimises the already marginal cultures in society who cannot affordto or do not wish to produce their productions professionally, i.
e. amateurdramatic companies. In summary, Wilmer’s book is bothengaging and concise. I feel that the methods outlined here whilst veryrelevant and certainly insightful, are a little rigid. The four categories forexample will prove quite useful I’m sure, however I feel that if I was to usethese methods as the sole framework of my research then perhaps I would findthem slightly delimiting to say the least. I must also take into considerationthat I am dealing with a collection of essays, some written 20 years ago so Ithink it would be fair to say that how w view and write about history can nodoubt evolve over a twenty year period.
This aside, I still found this anexcellent 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 ofPerformance, 2ndedn., Iowa: University of Iowa Press. pp.
2. 3 Page 14 White, M. (1999) Staging A Musical, London: A & CBlack Ltd.
pp.25 Helmar Schramm, “Theatralität und Öffenlichkeit: Vorstudien zurBegriffsgeschichte von ‘Theatre.’ in Karlheinz Barck et al.
, eds., Ästhetische Grundbegriffe: Studien zu einemhistorischen Wörterbuch (Berlin: Akad.-Verlag, 1990) p.
2066 Notes section 87 8 Wilmer p. 24 9 Based upon a cross reference oftheatre events listings from both websites of The National Concert Hall, Dublinand A.I.MS.