The Archive at the University of Greenwich
Dr Heather Lilley, Senior Lecturer in Drama at Anglia Ruskin University and Director of the Reminiscence Theatre Archive Company
Since joining the University of Greenwich in 2007, I have worked collaboratively with Pam Schweitzer to continue and expand the reach of Reminiscence Theatre into the community, training volunteers to perform plays based on the memories of a target audience of older people. Establishing a home for her Reminiscence Theatre Archive at the University has allowed us to deepen our relationship and expand the scope of our work. In return for providing a secure and sustainable home for the archive, we have gained an invaluable source of material that has enlivened many aspects of our work, including: theatre, history, age-related and interdisciplinary research projects crossing Humanities, Social Sciences, Law and Healthcare; the training of volunteers; the creation of new theatre productions; our relationship with the local community – particularly residents of Greenwich and Woolwich’s Sheltered Housing Units – and with many international reminiscence theatre practitioners and dementia care workers.
Our aim is not only to preserve the materials contained within the archive – through cataloguing and digitising – but also to facilitate access to them and put them to active use for the benefit of our students and the wider community.
We have given volunteers access to the archive to provide source materials for new devised work. By doing this, we aim to make the archive a living collection, with volunteers reinterpreting and re-embodying the historical accounts contained within it. An integral part of volunteers’ work on the archive is the creation of performances for older people, exploring the potential to re-use collected memories contained within the archive for their original purpose.
The arrival of the archive within the University also presents the opportunity to assess what ongoing benefits might be elicited, not only in terms of the so-far fairly small body of academic research into reminiscence theatre (as opposed to reminiscence and dementia care, a much more fully developed area), but in terms of the experience and education of students working within the applied field and, potentially, the experience of older people in the community.
Dr Harry Derbyshire, Principal Lecturer in English Literature and Drama at the University of Greenwich and Chair of the European Reminiscence Network
It’s been my pleasure to work with Pam Schweitzer since 2005, when I first took a group of students to work with her in Blackheath. As my appreciation of her unique expertise and accomplishments grew, it was my privilege to help Pam gain the status of Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Greenwich; in return I took up the role of Chair of the European Reminiscence Network, the organisation through which Pam’s work continues at both a national and international level. We have been very lucky to be able to call on Pam’s expertise on the specialised and painstaking work of reminiscence theatre and about creating effective drama generally. The idea of bringing Pam’s archive to Greenwich has been in the air for many years, and it’s a great pleasure to see the plan finally realised; it is an invaluable and fascinating resource which will enrich our students’ experience and offer the opportunity for all kinds of exciting research initiatives.
Dr June Balshaw, Head of the Department of History, Politics and Social Sciences at the University of Greenwich
The Reminiscence Theatre Archive is an excellent online resource that offers the many who are interested access to a vast collection of oral history gathered over a period of more than 30 years. Besides any use it may have for the practice of reminiscence theatre, it is an outstanding example of an oral history archive that provides new ways of accessing and understanding the past, allowing us to explore the histories of groups whose voices have often been hidden from conventional history. Like the Memories of War Project, the Reminiscence Theatre Archive allows previously untold stories of the past to be heard but also includes reminiscences of life for different groups spanning most of the twentieth century.
Together, the Memories of War Project and the Reminiscence Theatre Archive have worked closely with local communities including schools, residential homes and special interest groups to ensure community involvement and accessibility to the collections. To date, a number of joint community events have been held at the University of Greenwich including performances involving volunteers, students and staff from across the Institution; through this collaboration wider participation and a closer link with the local community has been achieved.
Will Robley, Historical Archivist at the University of Greenwich
This unique archive is a complete record of the Reminiscence Theatre productions created between 1983 and 2005, during which time Pam Schweitzer was Founder and Artistic Director of Age Exchange Theatre Trust. It documents professional shows and their creation from interviews with older people, and includes local, national and international projects.
Like many reminiscence projects it brings together in a ‘community archive’ the life experiences of the local area from the perspective of different, frequently un-heard voices. Its uniqueness, however, lies in the fact that those same voices are then taken to create life stories in the form of plays for performance both locally and nationally. In this way it ensures that the reminiscences are not only preserved but also heard.
The archive also contains evidence of the process by which the reminiscences were brought to wider audiences. Under no circumstances should the archive be split. The importance of this archive lies in the evidence of process, as much as in the reminiscences and the theatre productions. This evidence of process is an invaluable resource to other collectors of oral histories as a model of ‘performance’, which would be lost if the archive was to be broken into its constituent parts.