REBEL AND PROPHET: THE FORGOTTEN MODERNISER OF THE 20th CENTURY STAGE
International theatre director, designer, writer, thinker, artist and lover. Discover the light and dark of this pioneer and rule-breaker, both on and off the stage.
AN EXHIBITION AT STEVENAGE MUSEUM 11 FEB – 3 JUNE 2017
When it came to naming Stevenage’s new town theatre, his name jumped off the pages of theatre history. One of the most radical and influential forces on the world’s stages was born less than a mile away.
Son of actress Ellen Terry, the “uncrowned queen of England”, Edward Gordon Craig grew up on the London stage alongside Henry Irving at the heart of the 19th century’s theatrical elite.
But Craig was harbouring a revolutionary reaction to conventional theatre-making; the visionary was already hard at work…
A new theatre for a new century was to be born.
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We’ve previously posted a link to Talking New Towns, our oral history website, and this post will focus on two of the helpful resources available there; education packs for Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead named ‘Thinking New Towns’. These provide a range of fun activities and information enabling children (and adults!) to learn about the history of the new towns through subjects such as PSCHE, history and geography.
As someone who was a pupil in Stevenage in the recent past, it is very interesting to see the history of the new town from the perspective of those who were there at the start, and to compare the childhood experiences of those who moved to the new town during its formation after the Second World War with my own – I’m sure current pupils will also find it fascinating.
I can see the ‘DIY oral history’ activity as being particularly exciting given that many of those who moved to Stevenage soon after it became a new town still live in the area and can be interviewed by today’s children. However, the pack is not just for learning about Stevenage – it links to topics including the Second World War, future post-war governments, and even the Soviet Union! It can also serve as a useful launch pad for a deeper look into the history of Stevenage new town through the main Talking New Towns website. These packs bring an important section of Stevenage’s rich and exciting history to life for today’s children.
As part of the Who is Gordon Craig? project, we’re making a short film on the Edward Gordon Craig collection held at Eton College Library. We took a film crew, three of our volunteers and a lot of their questions to Eton on the 5th Jan 2017.
Kitty Butterworth (14, studying at Nobel School), Amy Shields and Maisie-Jane Betts (17 and 16, at Hitchin Girls’) interviewed Eton’s keeper of rare books and expert on Craig, Michael Meredith, whose connection with the collection and Eton College library spans 50 years.
Our team quizzed Michael on the theatre before and after Craig’s impact on it, how he expressed his ideas, his relationship with Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and other key people in his life and what he wanted to achieve with his school, founded in Italy before the First World War. Michael’s energy and enthusiasm for Craig’s work was clearly on show!
The film will be on show as part of the upcoming exhibition at Stevenage Museum, Feb 11th to June 3rd 2017, and also available as part of our resources for teachers of theatre and drama at key stage 5.
You can read more about Eton College Library here.
Our thanks to Michael Meredith and Sally Jennings at Eton College Library and Tony at Hitchin TV.
Stevenage Museum’s team of volunteer co-curators on the Who is Gordon Craig? project visited Eton College Library’s extensive archive of Edward Gordon Craig’s books, designs, artwork and correspondence on Monday 24th October.
Our volunteers, a diverse group of Stevenage locals, viewed and selected items for display in Stevenage Museum’s forthcoming exhibition on Gordon Craig’s life and work, opening in February 2017. Eton’s Michael Meredith, an expert on Craig and rare books, was on hand to answer the team’s questions and to help them explore the collection, much of which is rarely viewed by the public.
Craig, a significant and radical modernising presence in 20th century theatre, died in 1966 after a long and prolific life. He left a profound legacy in the history of theatre, art and printing.
For more information about the project or to get involved, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve been working hard on a new exhibition on the life and work of Edward Gordon Craig. Stevenage Museum’s research team, made up of staff and volunteers, visited Smallhythe Place in Kent on the 10th August 2016.
The property, now owned the National Trust, was the home of Ellen Terry (Craig’s mother) from 1899 until her death in 1928. The following year, her daughter, Edith Craig, transformed the house into a museum which now displays a fascinating personal and theatrical collection that reflects Ellen’s extraordinary career and unconventional private life.
Susannah Mayor, house steward, gave a guided tour of the beautiful 16th century property before inviting the team behind the scenes to view their extensive collection of artwork, books, letters, photographs and costumes related to this fascinating family.
Items in their collection pertaining to Edward Gordon Craig can be viewed here and the broader collection at Smallhythe is accessible here.
A database of the correspondence of Ellen Terry and Edith Craig, prepared by Professor Katharine Cockin can be found here.
As part of our preparations for the forthcoming Who is Gordon Craig? exhibition, volunteers and staff at the Stevenage Museum made their first of several planned visits to archives and repositories around the country. The team visited the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Theatre and Performance archive at Blythe House on the 10th June 2016.
The V&A’s archivist Andrew Kirk was very helpful and knowledgeable in showing us artifacts to help illustrate Craig’s story and his designs and ideas for theatre.
Our theatre is named after him… but who was Edward Gordon Craig?
50 years after his death (almost to the date), Stevenage Arts Guild, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, celebrated the life and work of the town’s forgotten son who became a radical and visionary theatrical pioneer.
A day of fascinating talks, demonstrations and discussions on the man, his extraordinary parents and his inspiring visions for the “art of the theatre”.
Christopher Baugh FRSA, FHEA
Emeritus Professor of Performance & Technology at University of Leeds
Penny Francis MBE
Honorary Fellow of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, puppetry practitioner
Professor Katharine Cockin FEA, PFHEA, FRSA
University of Hull, biographer of Edith Craig, Edith Craig and the Theatres of Art (2017) and editor of The Collected Letters of Ellen Terry (2010-). http://www.ellenterryarchive.hull.ac.uk
Teacher and theatre practitioner, the last assistant to Craig and his “unofficial” pupil
Questions and Answers
David Brind, former Scenic Artist at Royal Opera House, Lecturer in Art and Design
Dr Rachel Hann, Lecturer in Scenography at University of Surrey
Arts Guild to bring fascinating speakers to Stevenage on July 31st to celebrate the town’s forgotten son.
Stevenage’s theatre is named after him but… Who is Gordon Craig?
50 years, almost to the date, after Craig’s death, Stevenage Arts Guild think it’s time to find out!
When Stevenage’s theatre was built in 1975, there was one very obvious choice of who to name the town’s new cultural and entertainment centre after. The borough architect and the local council did not have to look far away for their inspiration – about a mile, in fact.
One of the theatre world’s most influential, radical and visionary thinkers was born in 1872 in Orchard Road (then Railway Street) in Stevenage. Edward Gordon Craig, son of actress Ellen Terry and architect Edward Godwin, went on to became a leading force in the development of 20th century performance – a true theatrical pioneer.
Yet, despite Craig’s undeniable impact on the theatre of today, many of those who visit or live in Stevenage, or even speed by on a train catching glimpses of the town’s theatre, find themselves asking, “who is Gordon Craig?” 50 years after Craig’s death in 1966, Stevenage Arts Guild think it’s time to find out!
“2016 seemed a perfect time to celebrate Craig’s life and work and his connection with Stevenage”, said chair of Stevenage Arts Guild, Hilary Spiers. The Guild, which aims to encourage, sustain and co-ordinate the artistic endeavours of the people of Stevenage, received a grant of £65k from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the “Who is Gordon Craig?” project earlier in the year.
The project’s first event, “Craig: 50 Years On”, is being held at the Gordon Craig Theatre on Sunday 31st July from midday until 6pm.
“It’s an opportunity for Stevenage to get better acquainted with its forgotten son”, said project manager Andy Purves. “We’ve all got lots of questions: “Who was he? What did he do? Why is he worth remembering 50 years after his death? What’s behind the Stevenage connection? What was he like, as a person? What legacy did he leave behind?” We’re gathering some fascinating speakers to answer our questions on the man himself, his parents and his inspiring visions for theatre.”
Christopher Baugh, a former set designer and emeritus professor of performance and technology, will open proceedings on the 31st July and discuss Craig’s radical take on theatre and scenic design. Penny Francis, who was awarded an MBE for services to puppetry in 1998, will help unpick Craig’s fascination with marionettes. Professor Katharine Cockin, as biographer of Edward Gordon Craig’s sister Edith and editor of The Collected Letters of Ellen Terry, is waiting to share her insight on this extraordinary family. Harvey Grossman, a friend, assistant and “unofficial” pupil of Craig’s will share his first-hand experiences of the theatre’s eponym with the people of Stevenage on the day too.
The day’s events will be chaired by Dr Rachel Hann (Lecturer in Scenography at the Guildford School of Acting, University of Surrey) who will be no stranger to the venue – Rachel grew up in Stevenage, attended Nobel School and trod the boards of the Gordon Craig with the Youth Theatre in the late 90s. Rachel went on to study drama and specialise in the study of performance design. Rachel said: “I’m very keen to support this great initiative in my home town. The work and ideas of Craig have informed my own professional career immeasurably. While initially only known to me as a place name, at university and now in my research, Craig remains a distinct influence on my daily life as an academic. I always take delight in telling my international colleagues that I was part of the Gordon Craig Youth Theatre – it never fails to impress!”
Professor Christopher Baugh also has a local connection – he designed several productions for Spectrum Young People’s Theatre Company, based at the Gordon Craig Theatre from 1985, where he worked closely with then theatre manager and chief technician, Bob Bustance. Christopher went on to become chair of Spectrum’s board of directors.
The programme will include presentation of Stevenage Arts Guild’s awards to local young people with a passion, ambition and outstanding talent in the arts. Around 15 grants are awarded yearly by the Guild, which go to fund a specific element of development or training, for example, towards the cost of buying a new instrument or art materials; music or dance lessons; competition fees or promoting and exhibiting work. This year, the Guild are particularly thrilled to be presenting the specially created “2016 Edward Gordon Craig” award to a highly deserving local young actor.
Hilary Spiers of Stevenage Arts Guild said: “Craig was an enigmatic figure – we think there are some very interesting stories to uncover here. We hope the day will be a fascinating and joyous celebration of this intriguing man, his heritage and his extraordinary contribution to theatre… he could be described as the town’s forgotten son but hopefully not for very much longer.”
For more information on the free event on Sunday 31st July at the Gordon Craig Theatre and the rest of the project’s activities visit www.whoisgordoncraig.co.uk
Join Stevenage Museum in telling the story of the town’s forgotten son, Edward Gordon Craig
Edward Gordon Craig was born in Stevenage in 1872. He was an actor, stage director and innovative theatre theorist and the theatre in Stevenage is named after him. But there is lots more to the story…
We are looking for volunteers aged 14 to 114 to help put together an exciting exhibition on Craig here at the museum, due to open in December 2016. This would involve:
Trips to Eton College, the V&A Museum and Smallhythe in Kent to select objects for loan
Local history research
Writing text for panels and labels
Helping with the private view and programme of talks
Edward Gordon Craig was prolific and there’s a lot to explore: he worked as an actor, director and stage designer; he wrote, illustrated and typeset books and journals; he was a talented artist working in etchings, woodcuts and watercolours; he founded a school for theatre; he explored puppetry with shadow puppets and marionettes.
Craig’s parents, actress Ellen Terry and architect Edward William Godwin were both extraordinary too – their connection with Stevenage is waiting to be uncovered.
Aged 14 to 19? Why join in? Get behind the scenes of a busy museum taking part in this fascinating project with many different aspects to get involved with. Perhaps you are thinking of applying to university to do an arts or humanities degree, but particularly theatre studies, drama, history, history of art or media studies? This is a great opportunity to do something that supports your UCAS personal statement and gives you insight into the workings of a local cultural organisation. We are offering the opportunity to do an Arts Award Bronze, Silver or Gold.
Aged 20 to 120?! Who join in? Stevenage Museum provides an “on-the-job-training”, flexible and well supported approach to volunteering and we will aim to ensure that participants’ personal development is maximised. Our external funding for this project means that cost barriers, including childcare or any physical access issues, can be more readily overcome.