Exeter Northcott Theatre has been awarded a £143,500 National Lottery grant by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to engage the local community in a new project to explore its archive.
Since 1967, the Northcott has created a rich history of producing and creating theatre, launching the careers of many famous faces from stage and screen.
During the 1970s and 1980s, stars such as Celia Imrie, John Nettles, Imelda Staunton, Robert Lindsay and David Suchet all trod the boards as part of the repertory company.
A unique collection including photographs, posters, programmes, stage plans, press cuttings and scripts has been gathered, stored and recently catalogued.
The Audience Makers project will allow Exeter communities to delve into this rich history, its stories and voices, to expand the archive by generating new memories.
Daniel Buckroyd, the Northcott’s Artistic Director and Chief Executive, said: “The archive is a veritable treasure trove which spans more than half a century in the theatrical life of Exeter and Devon.
“Theatre, like society, is constantly evolving so the collection also offers a fascinating view of the world through the lens of performance.
“We felt the best way to make use of this amazing resource and to turn it into a lasting legacy was to let local people interpret the contents and identify the elements which they think stand out.
“I am sure the project will enrich the local theatre ecology by engaging new audiences and amplifying new voices. Hopefully, like theatre, it might spark some interesting debates and even throw up a few surprises.”
The archive is a valuable piece of South West theatre history and is currently being catalogued by the University of Exeter Special Collections.
It contains operational and production records spanning the period from its opening in 1967 to its refurbishment in 2007.
Audience Makers – a partnership project with the University of Exeter through their Digital Humanities and Special Collections departments, and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum – will work with a range of community partners to engage new voices and explore representation and voice within the archive.
This will include schools, organisations working with adults facing barriers to accessing heritage and theatre, such as CEDA (Community Equality Disability Action), and those working with older people with health and care needs such as Age UK Exeter.
The two-year scheme will open up this resource to new audiences, sparking debate into the relevance of its stories and the role of regional theatre today.
Stuart McLeod, Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support the Northcott’s innovative project.
“The theatre’s archive is a fascinating resource with huge potential to bring together diverse groups of people, but what really makes Audience Makers special is the way it puts people in charge of shaping the project, picking out and focussing on the elements that make it genuinely relevant to the 21st century.”
Three permanent installation pieces will be created as part of the project and elements of the archive and stories will be made accessible online through a new digital platform, hosted by the University of Exeter.
Other project activities will include work with schools on developing an educational resource, performance-based activities for community groups, and a series of touring events and exhibitions.
A heritage manager will be recruited to oversee the project, which will employ interns and provide work placements for students, thanks to funding from the university.
Dr Christine Faunch, Head of Heritage Collections at the University of Exeter, added: “I am delighted that the Northcott Theatre has been successful in securing Heritage funding for this audience-oriented project.
“The University has committed considerable resources to cataloguing this wonderful theatre collection, and to see the archive being used already as the basis for such an exciting project demonstrates very clearly the ongoing relevance of the theatre’s heritage to potentially new audiences. Our archivist, Caroline Walter, very much looks forward to working with the theatre on the project.”