Welcome to the website of our two research projects, the first fully funded academic studies of amateur theatre in the UK.

In Utopia

Added on by Helen Nicholson.

Hello! Firstly, this blog post should have gone up before Christmas so a lot has happened since I last wrote, but I thought it important to talk about my first meetings with Letchworth and amateur dramatics…

My name is Cara and my research is concerned with amateur dramatics in ‘Urban Utopias’ (focusing on Letchworth Garden City). Coming from a background in Cultural Geography, I was daunted as well as excited about the prospect of engaging in a subject that I hadn't studied since A Level. But over the past term (and a bit) that I have been reading, meeting people in the Drama and Theatre department at Royal Holloway and getting my thoughts together about my research interests, I realised that there were so many connections between the two disciplines - the ideas of 'space' and 'place' seem to be apparent everywhere.

And so, the first step Helen and I took into exploring Letchworth’s rich history of drama was a trip to the Garden City itself - to spend a day exploring the archives, in hope of finding a starting point in the vast array of research potential that this project has. We were kindly greeted with tea and biscuits, and after a tour of the archive we set to work on delving into a couple of archival boxes and a very fragile scrap book from the early 20th century, filled with theatre programs, amateur drama group correspondences and souvenir books. My favourite find of the day was a set of invitations, in the form of some very beautifully illustrated postcards by the famous illustrator and very keen amateur dramatist, R. P Gossop (1876 - 1951). Most of the programmes, which were marked with the (at first very mysterious) initials 'R.P.G', signaled that the Arts and Crafts movement influences didn't stop at the architecture of Letchworth. The idea of 'crafting theatre' really became apparent in these locally produced and designed accompaniments of performance, which was very exciting for me and my research interests in the 'making' of amateur theatre.

 After the archive, we explored Letchworth a little bit before enjoying a night of amateur dramatics from 'Variety Express' at the St Francis’ College Theatre (apparently Laurence Olivier made his first appearance on this stage as a baby). I haven't been to many amateur dramatics performances, and before my involvement in this project, my idea about amateur theatre was merely aesthetic; kitsch images of stages in village and guildhalls, velveteen curtains and pantomime costumes. What I took away with me that night was the apparent support from family and friends who seemed to make up for the majority of the audience.

Community spirit was alive in Letchworth.