Theatres of Memory

"Think, when we speak of horses, that you see’em, Printing their proud hooves in the receiving earth."

In our memory collecting process we've been finding different ways to speak to different people about the project. A call-out to an artist working at Bristol Old Vic through Bristol Ferment is very different to a call-out to an elderly audience member who last visited the theatre in the 1950s.  We've been working with different registers, approaches, modes of communication. Some via email, some via post, social media, telephone, through local press.

When writing the press release for the call-out, I asked Tom Morris to write a few words about the project.  He wrote two very eloquent versions of a text in response which I thought it might be nice to share.  Here's what Tom called the 'donnish version'

Theatre is an ephemeral art-form, but it’s all about memory and the imagination.   Its imaginative quality is what makes theatre different from film or telly, where the photographic nature of the image gives you a complete picture of the world in which the story is taking place.  In the best theatre you have to imagine that world – and of course what you imagine is based on memories of your own life.  

The Prologue to Henry V challenges our imagination in this way:  “Think, when we speak of horses, that you see’em, Printing their proud hooves in the receiving earth” and the images we create as we hear those words are necessarily a composite mosaic of our own memories of horses, hooves, earth and footprints. 

In the renaissance, philosophers wrote about “Theatres of Memory” - which were imaginary store-rooms which anyone could use to collect and associate their own memories.  Some say real theatres are like this too, rich with the gathered memories of their audience.  Memories haunt theatres like ghosts haunt churchyards.

The Memory of Theatre is an attempt to materialise the metaphor that the theatre is a house full of memories which are somehow in the ether and which allow an audience to feel empowered about their own experience in relation to art. It is an invitation to anyone who has interacted in any way, as artist, audience or staff, to 'return' their memory of that experience to the theatre to create a spoken archive which seems to emerge from the very fabric of the building in which the memories were born.  It's the perfect moment for Bristol Old Vic to be reawakening some of the oral history of the building as we prepare to open the doors of our auditorium following our recent refurbishment.

And here's the 'straightforward version'

The Memory of Theatre is a living archive of the most important things in a theatre’s history: the experiences of the audiences who go there.

Sometimes people think that theatre is all about what happens on the stage.  We think that what matters is what you remember when you’ve got home: the things that come back to you in quiet moments in the night; the things you talk about with your friends: the images you can’t get out of your mind.

We’re inviting anyone with memories of events that happened in this building to record them so that future generations will be able to place their own memories alongside them.

Some of the memories might be of plays, or actors:  some might be of conversations in the bar – or even your experience working on the theatre when it was a building site.   We’re interested in them all.  We want the theatre to remember what happened to you while you visited, just as you’ve remembered what happened in the theatre.