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Libraries and theatre: how arts and culture are working collaboratively

  • Date: 25 October 2011
  • Artform: Libraries, Theatre
  • Area: South East
Operation Oliver, Forest Forge, Hampshire Library Services, 2010 Operation Oliver, Forest Forge, Hampshire Library Services, 2010, Photo courtesy of Forest Forge

There are many examples of museums and libraries working successfully in partnership with arts organisations and artists in the South East.

By working collaboratively on projects and programmes, these partnerships can provide a richer and more comprehensive experience to audiences and the public.

With over 300 museums and galleries and over 500 libraries in the South East, they are the perfect venues for bringing writers, poets, artists and other arts professionals together with audiences.

In a three-part series over the course of the next few months, we’ll be presenting examples of where different art forms have been working with museums or libraries: theatre and libraries, visual arts and museums, and libraries and literature.

Libraries and theatre

Last year, Hampshire Library Service commissioned New Forest-based theatre company Forest Forge, an Arts Council England regularly funded organisation, to produce two theatre shows to tour in primary schools and libraries around Hampshire.

The company made a show about the county’s work houses Operation Oliver last autumn, and this year for Charles Dicken’s bicentenary, Forest Forge are producing an adaptation of the show that focuses more closely on Dicken’s life.

Forest Forge’s Associate Director David Haworth wrote and directed Operation Oliver.

David says:  ‘The play looked at the real workhouses, but we used Oliver Twist as a reference to make it accessible to children. They wanted us to tell those stories of life inside, but the workhouses were quite gruesome, particularly the Andover, where they forced all the children and adults to crush bones. It was later discovered that some of the bones were human.

‘The challenge was about taking those stories and making them work for young audiences and not totally scaring them. In our show, the actors crushed dog bone biscuits and we made it into a song. The children really got into it! I enjoyed making the play as interactive as possible for the kids.

‘The library service wanted each workhouse to be represented. What was lovely for me, as a writer, is having all these museums open up their archives to research in. They welcomed me in.’

The new Dickens show goes on the road in January 2012.

David says: ‘This time we are performing in some libraries, as well as primary schools. They’re also going to do a tie-in follow up workshop at the Westbury Manor Museum, where they’ll have artefacts from workhouses and show the jobs people had.’