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Navigating Ireland's Theatre Archive

Theory, Practice, Performance

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Edited By Barry Houlihan

The historiography of Irish theatre has largely been dependent on in-depth studies of the play-text as the definitive primary source. This volume explores the processes of engaging with the documented and undocumented record of Irish theatre and broadens the concept of evidential study of performance through the use of increasingly diverse sources. The archive is regarded here as a broad repository of evidence including annotated scripts, photographs, correspondence, administrative documents, recordings and other remnants of the mechanics of producing theatre. It is an invaluable resource for scholars and artists in interrogating Ireland’s performance history.

This collection brings together key thinkers, scholars and practitioners who engage with the archive of Irish theatre and performance in terms of its creation, management and scholarly as well as artistic interpretation. New technological advances and mass digitization allow for new interventions in this field. The essays gathered here present new critical thought and detailed case studies from archivists, theatre scholars, historians and artists, each working in different ways to uncover and reconstruct the past practice of Irish performance through new means.

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Staging Absence for Digital Historiography: Feminist Irish Theatre (Ciara Conway)

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Ciara Conway

Staging Absence for Digital Historiography: Feminist Irish Theatre

In her 2014 book, Haptic Allegories: Kinship and Performance in the Black and Green Atlantic, Kathleen Gough draws attention to the challenge of reading the objective reality of women as separate from their allegorical images and metaphoric constructions in history. Gough asks if it’s possible to find a female body prior to such metaphoric constructions in an archive (7). She argues for a methodological intervention: between historiography/dramaturgy on the one hand and dramaturgy/historiography on the other (Gough 7). Such an intervention may be one response to Susan Bennett’s call in the edited collection Women, theatre and performance: New Histories, New Historiographies (from 2000) for new forms of feminist historiography. Bennett said, ‘I see the task as one that must draw emphatically not on notions of “truth” or “fact”, but on what history most fears: imagination’ (51).

This essay examines two examples of such work, with distinct forms and dramaturgies, and asks how and where their methods were most successful. It focuses specifically on theatre performance that was based on a foundation of archival material from national and city institutions, and explores how using a historiographical lens to find and evaluate primary historical documents shaped the process of staging an original work of theatre.

In 2014, a number of Irish theatre makers displayed such imagination, using performance and dramaturgy to explode Irish historiography with a particularly feminist intent. Two theatre projects in particular...

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