There is never nothing to do in a museum.
Much of my time is spent answering enquiries or working with new collection material as it comes in. However, when neither of these time consuming things are happening, it gives me a chance to ‘enhance’ the existing collection.
This may mean rehousing items in specialist acid-free enclosures and boxes or adding information to the original entry in our catalogue. Many times people have responded to my requests for information via these pages, providing detail that I add to the records. A catalogue is never finished!
A museum challenge
Sometimes collections that come into the museum are large, or in formats that are difficult to process, such as negatives, slides or very bulky items. Being short on time, or lacking equipment, staff often have only had time to briefly list what is in boxes as they received them.
This is an understandable challenge for a museum.
It also makes that particular part of the collection almost impossible to access. We can’t tell researchers exactly what images there are in the collection, and if people are really interested they are forced to fossick through the actual images, which can easily damage them. Making such collections available for research is a time consuming task.
At one point last year, I took advantage of some ‘spare’ time I had to revisit five boxes pertaining to the Ashburton Repertory Society, which were donated to the museum in 2003. While some images had been scanned, for most there was little catalogue detail – no names, dates, or performance title were listed. The only thing known was that they were part of this collection. There were also a number of negatives and slides, which I had no real idea what they showed.
So for almost a week I scanned the entire collection! This was a very large task but now every item in the Repertory collection is available to view digitally.
The project required some carful decision making regarding priorities. Not all the items are on our catalogue (we really don’t need 20 images of an empty set!) but 247 images showing performers from 1936 until the mid-1980s are viewable on our research room public terminal.
Some were taken by professional photographers such as Gordon Binsted and Bobbie Barwell, but others are of a more amateur variety.
Can you help?
Hopefully, given that the Repertory Society relies on community involvement I am sure there will be a number of faces people can recognise. This may help me add even more information to our catalogue. If you do recognise anyone, we’d love to hear from you.
However, even if you don’t know anyone, the images are still interesting. One can see the progression from traditional well-known shows such as Gaslight, to more modern shows, such as Middle Age Spread.
A whole set of slides seems to show a pantomime with children actors dominating. The sets also change, as well as the costumes. There is even one show which suggests it was full of cross dressing males! I do hope you enjoy this selection I’ve chosen, but remember there’s lot more to be seen.
We’re also interested to hear from anyone with programmes, posters or other material related to the Society’s history to help complete this collection; or could help identify other members of cast and crew at the Society.
By Kathleen Stringer
- One of the unknown slides. Even the name of the performance would be of help to the museum catalogue.
- A children’s performance, may be Dick Whittington.
- These groovy people are from Halfway Up A Tree, which was staged in 1974.
- A cross dressing performer at an unknown Ashburton Repertory Society performance.
- The cast of Will Any Gentleman, a 1964 production.