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Delving into the Past to Shape our Future

Selection of black and white images showcasing education work in the 1970s
Dating back to 1967 the extensive Northcott archive includes posters, programmes, board minutes, photographs and many other artefacts that convey a range of perspectives of the theatre’s story so far. A number of interns have been working closely with Special Collections at the University of Exeter to identify items that resonate with them and would be compelling conversation-starters about the role of theatre now.

With the archive as a starting point, we have now planned a number of events to explore our history and spark debate about emerging themes. The materials will be digitised and shared on our website in a thematic fashion over the next eighteen months. To coincide with their release, a number of online discussions and open Q&As will take place with a panel of artists, academics and community members.

Archive photography by Nicholas Toyne.

It’s been fascinating to see that many of the challenges the theatre experienced then are still relevant right now. Some of the documents we uncovered ignited a lot of debate!

Farzana Khan, Heritage Intern

The Impact of Women

Wed 5 May 2021

The first panel will take place on 5 May and will look at the impact of women on the theatre’s history – and what these stories can tell us about the experiences of women in the arts more widely. The panel will be chaired by Natalie McGrath, writer and Co-Director of Dreadnought South West, an organisation that connects individuals and communities through the telling and keeping of great and courageous stories about women’s activism that have lain undiscovered and often untold.

Diversity and Representation

Wed 26 May 2021

Louisa Adjoa Parker, a writer and leader of projects exploring ethnically diverse heritages, will chair a panel looking at how communities with diverse heritages including African diaspora people, South, East and South East Asian diaspora people, and recent immigrants to Exeter and Devon are represented in the theatre’s archive. How has diversity and inclusion been approached historically and what does this legacy mean for anti-racism in the South West today?

Black and white photo of performance in a school, children sitting on the floor watching: The Celts and Their Stories 1971
© Nicholas Toyne
Black and white photo of performance in a school, an ominous hooded figure and a small puppet with long hair and long robes at the centre: The Celts and Their Stories 1971
© Nicholas Toyne

Local History and Place

Wed 23 June 2021

In partnership with Exeter Local History Society and Exeter Memories, we will explore local history and reminiscence about former Northcott productions and projects with our local community.

Access and the Arts

September 2021 (date tbc)

With Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director and CEO of Graeae Theatre, and Plymouth based Producer Dan Baker, we will discuss accessibility and the arts, particularly for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and disabled people; how this has been approached historically and what needs to change moving forward.

The Role of Regional Theatre

In October, to coincide with Exeter Fringe Festival, our Artist Development Producer Helen Bovey will chair a conversation about the changing role of regional theatre.

The Future of Theatre

And finally, in November the archive’s commissioning circle of local community representatives will host an event asking “What would we like the theatre archive to contain in 50 years’ time?” to imagine and plan for what comes next.

Northcott Theatre programme from 1971

These panel events kick-start a wider project, funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, which through workshops, oral history collection, new artworks and exhibitions will gather a wide range of perspectives and voices from audiences, artists and communities.

This spring, we will be running in-depth workshops with groups, including disability action charity CEDA and diverse groups of young people, to enable them to select archive items that resonate and shape the discussion they want to have. Members of these groups will form a commissioning circle, to select and guide artists to create new pieces of work inspired by the archive.

The archive material and responses to it including the live panel events will be available on our website and an evolving exhibition will be installed at the theatre from September this year.

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