For the past three weeks I’ve been undertaking a work placement with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as part of my MA in History and Heritage at Aberystwyth University. My placement has mostly consisted of working with the Michael Bogdanov Collection. For those of you who don’t know, Michael Bogdanov (1938-) is a Welsh born theatre, film, and television director who has worked extensively throughout the UK, Ireland, Germany, and elsewhere – he first directed Shakespeare in Sao Paulo, Brazil! I read one of his books as an undergraduate (when I studied Drama and Theatre Studies / History) so I was thrilled to be able to learn more about his work. He donated his collection of personal papers to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 2011. It includes scripts, press coverage, production records, correspondence, administrative papers, manuscripts, and more, from productions with many companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), National Theatre, Royal Opera House, English Shakespeare Company (which he founded together with the actor Michael Pennington), Wales Theatre Company, Dogo Cymru, BBC Wales, and the Deutsches Schauspielhaus. Altogether, there are 139 boxes of material covering over fifty years worth of productions. Quite a few then!
The aim of my project has been to ‘make the archive more findable/navigable for staff and users’ and to ‘raise the profile of the archive and the archive service’. When I began working on the project, few people (including myself, if I’m honest) knew the Bogdanov collection existed, and the boxes were unlabelled, unorganised, and difficult to locate. In order to achieve the project aims, my activities have centred on two main tasks: organising/listing the collection and helping to create a display about Michael Bogdanov’s career for the Trust’s Winter School.
To begin with, I focused on organising and listing the collection. This mostly involved labelling. Lots and lots of labelling. I labelled all the storage locations in the strong room where the Bogdanov collection is held, and tracked down the locations of all the boxes so that I could add a finding guide to the box list. I also labelled all the boxes themselves. I’ve done so much labelling that my friends have suggested I make myself a ‘Best Labeller’ label! (I haven’t done this – yet.)
As the Winter School drew nearer, I spent more and more time helping Maddie with the Michael Bogdanov display. This included choosing interesting reviews of Michael Bogdanov’s RSC productions and typing them up, selecting production photographs to go alongside them, and pulling material out of the archive to use in the display. The new labels and finding guide came in very handy at this point! The range of Michael Bogdanov’s work is astonishing, and it was very difficult choosing which productions to represent – not wanting too much focus on RSC work, we were careful to include productions from a range of different companies and countries.
On the final day of the Winter School, Michael Bogdanov came to take part in a Q&A session with Paul Edmondson – this was the day our display went on show. I helped Maddie set up the display, chatted to the attendees, and was introduced to Michael Bogdanov himself! Having been working with his collection for two weeks at this point, it was incredibly exciting to actually meet him – although when you’ve spent a long time looking at photographs of someone it can be slightly strange seeing them in 3D. He was chuffed with our display, which we naturally found very gratifying! The Q&A session was recorded and will eventually form part of the collection itself.
Alongside my work on the Winter School display, I have also been organising the new accruals to the Michael Bogdanov collection. These had not been looked at properly since their arrival, and it has been my job to list the items and re-box them. This was a great opportunity to become better associated with the wide range of material in the collection, and it was very easy to become distracted looking through the boxes of documents. I came across handwritten correspondence from Penelope Wilton, Pauline Collins, Derek Jacobi, and Felicity Kendall, although some of my favourite items were the production documents relating to Michael Bogdanov’s work in Wales – coming from Aberystwyth it was always nice to see a familiar name or logo pop up!
The final activities of my project have been to label the new accrual boxes (more labelling!) and add them to the box list. This means that all 139 boxes currently in the collection are now findable and listed – thus achieving the project’s aim to ‘make the archive more findable/navigable for staff and users’! Hopefully this, along with the Winter School display and this blog post, will also help to achieve the other aim: to ‘raise the profile of the archive and the archive service’. The Michael Bogdanov collection is a phenomenal resource for people researching performance, directing, young people’s drama, community theatre, musical theatre, opera, and more, and it deserves to be better known. Especially now that it’s all labelled!