Laurence Raw: Fellowship Recipient

Laurence Raw: Fellowship Recipient

My research project is looking at the life and work of the British actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit, who worked in the British theatre from 1937 until 1953 as an actor-manager. And in the HRC, there are all of his promptbooks, stage plots, letters and correspondence relating to his career of fifteen or sixteen years. This material used to be in Britain but I never actually managed to get hold of it and it’s all available now. The reason why I’m looking at it is quite simply because nobody else has ever looked at it before. So this is going into completely new and virgin territory. The promptbook itself is a full copy of the play but then it has pencil cuts and pieces snipped out. I mean it’s like the text of a play that’s pasted onto pieces of white paper at the center of a piece of paper and pencil directions put at the side. So it actually tells us what this particular producer wanted to do with the play at that particular time. It’s like if you got the Shakespeare play then the promptbook actually tells us very much how the play was staged and this is very interesting to me because this particular artiste was actually performing theatre during the Second World War. He had absolutely no money and he was performing not only in Britain but in Europe and in the Middle East, at times in front of troops. He had no sets and no costumes and he was trying to perform in front of audiences of troops. So the promptbook would be a kind of shorthand that he could use just to be able to stage the play just like that and that’s one of the interesting things I found because it tells you a lot about how much theatre meant both to actors and audiences during the Second World War. Not only as a means of increasing morale but also of making British audiences aware, for example, of the fact that Shakespeare himself was a great author and that he could be used for propagandist purposes at that time. My way of approaching research at the HRC is to think of basic keywords which I write down on a piece of paper and then I indulge in word association. So you put down the name Shakespeare and then perhaps I would then go on to Shakespeare, theatre, Britain, Second World War and then I would think of what actors were in there. In other words, to try and work very associatively so that I can make the best use of the material and I think it’s very good because the HRC’s finding aids program on the computer is a very good way of being able to link your own word association and drive you toward the materials.

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