Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

70 Years of Theatre Notebook

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

70 Years of Theatre Notebook

Article excerpt

Any publication that has lasted for seventy years will have gone through many changes in its lifetime--not only its content, its readership and the way it is produced and distributed but also its editors and managerial helpers and advisors. Theatre Notebook is no different. It began as an idea of Ifan Kyrle Fletcher at the end of World War Two, in 1945, and developed for the next few years under the guidance and editorship of Sybil Rosenfeld and Richard Southern, with Fletcher as its manager and publisher.

There was an excitement and drive in their work in those early years. Like many of the earlier contributors they were amateurs in theatre history, in the sense that they studied it purely out of personal enthusiasm. (At the time there was in any case only the beginnings of an academic discipline of theatre history in Britain and its borders were ill-defined.) Initially, the call was to gather information about what knowledge was available about the history of British theatre and to encourage articles suitable for publication. In a challenge to themselves and potential contributors, the editors said "There are many fields to touch".

Writing in the fiftieth issue of Theatre Notebook Sybil Rosenfeld acknowledged Fletcher as "a pioneer in extending the interests of theatre research" and praises his "organising spirit and energy, which enabled this country to lead the way in promoting the study of theatre history". She speaks of his role in the formation of the Society for Theatre Research, founded at a meeting at the Old Vic theatre in London on 15 June 1948. She credits him with calling together an International Conference on Theatre History in 1955 that led to the foundation of the International Federation of Theatre Research. Fletcher's concern for the protection of theatres was instrumental in the formation, in 1958, of a Council for Theatre Protection, which led in turn to the Theatre Advisory Council. The lack of a national theatre museum was another subject that featured repeatedly in the editorial content of Theatre Notebook. Eventually in 1957 a British Theatre Museum Association was formed. Premises were found at Leighton House, Kensington, where a permanent collection was housed, study facilities arranged and special exhibitions staged. As Rosenfeld acknowledged, "This led to the establishment of the present Theatre Museum in Covent Garden", which went on play a vital role in the development of the discipline. Ten years after Sybil wrote this piece, the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden was closed. The Chairman of the Theatre Research Society at the time, Ian Herbert, contributed an editorial (volume 60, 2006, p. 128) calling the transfer to the Victoria and Albert Museum "a retrograde step" taken hastily without "any serious consideration of the needs and possibilities for a living theatre museum". How that has worked out is not a subject for discussion in this article.

In 1954, Richard Southern resigned as editor, due to the pressure of his many responsibilities in connection with the study and practice of the theatre. An editorial expressing appreciation of his devotion to Theatre Notebook said that his work had "done much to bring about the contemporary flowering of interest in the subjects in which he is an acknowledged expert--theatre buildings, scenes and machines". Fletcher took his place as co-editor and a number of assistants helped with "some of the editorial burdens"; those named were Tom Milne, Helen Hambro, Diana Barron and Colin Sutherland (see appendix for complete list of those involved over the seventy years). In 1966, Bamber Gascoigne accepted an invitation to become a third editor and was welcomed "not only as a scholar who demonstrated so engagingly how to dip the first toe into theatre research, but as a perceptive critic of the contemporary stage". Three years later, in 1969 Theatre Notebook, "with deep sorrow" reported Fletcher's death noting that as well as his editorial and management contributions he had written fourteen articles for the journal, covering fields and diverse as ballet history and theatrical biography. …

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