Intersections 2017 – Second Keynote

Reference Maker: History Maker

 Simon Sladen (V&A Museum)

Keynote speech – Friday 20th January – 10-11:15 – Embassy Theatre

Respondent: Professor Gilli Bush-Bailey (RCSSD)

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Theatre and Performance Collections are the most diverse in the world. Over 450 archives and special collections help tell the story of British performance alongside three million photographs, 125,000 production files, 100,000 books and over 75,000 objects including costumes, designs, puppets, posters and ceramics.

Since 1924, the Victoria and Albert Museum has actively sought to document performance and make its material remains available for study, enjoyment and inspiration. Curators, librarians and archivists work together to capture the ephemeral and make it accessible to the public. Debates around what should be collected, why and how occur on a daily basis, but perhaps more importantly for the researcher is the issue of how to access such material.

With over a million individual items in the National Collection, references are created to facilitate access from page to part, piece to series and object to archive. But when references are assigned, are researchers hindered or helped? In creating structures, do curators create clarity? Without reference, does the item exist?

This paper will explore this tripartite of questions and examine the role of the Museum in the creation of histories. Using examples from the National Collection of Theatre and Performance as case studies, I will examine how collections acquire and become defined by their museum, library and archival numbers and how interpretations of these can challenge, mislead and enlighten histories of performance.

Simon Sladen is Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He is currently working on a research project relating to the Museum’s comedy holdings including the recently acquired Tommy Cooper Collection and Ronnie Barker Archive. Other projects for the Museum include the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Peter Brook: From Archive to Action!’ and cataloguing the Vivien Leigh Archive. He is co-convenor of TaPRA’s Popular Performance Working Group and a member of Blackpool Museum Project’s academic advisory panel. His recent work on celebrity performance and reception in British pantomime is set to be published by Bloomsbury later this year in edited collection Popular Performance.