Shakespearean London Theatres (ShaLT)

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: English and Drama


It is not widely known that the sites of many of the London theatres of Shakespeare's time have been positively identified and can be enjoyed as tourist destinations. This project aims to increase public awareness of these sites and to promote their enjoyment by producing, through a partnership between Loughborough University and the Victoria & Albert Museum, maps, booklets, interactive software, public talks, and downloadable short films that will enable the public to travel to the modern London locations of these theatres and learn about them. The knowledge to be transferred includes the histories of particular theatres--who owned them, how they were designed, what plays were performed there, their playwrights, and what kinds of audiences came--as well as social and cultural differences between these locations now and 400 years ago (when, for example, Shoreditch was suburban and largely fields). Maps, booklets, talks, and films will transmit this knowledge passively, while a website and a software application for smartphones will interactively direct users to particular sites in modern London and provide visual representations of how the sites looked 400 years ago when theatres stood and thrived in their several locations.

Knowledge of the history of professional drama in London begins, for many, with the Restoration theatre in 1660, and the start of the Drury Lane tradition that by the twentieth century had evolved into London's West End Theatreland. However, this evolution could not have taken place without the theatregoing that flourished from 1567, when the Red Lion theatre in Stepney was built by John Brayne and James Burbage (father of the celebrated actor Richard), until 1642 when Parliament closed the theatres as Civil War loomed. Interested playgoers are aware of Bankside's original Globe theatre, where Shakespeare's dramas were performed from 1599, and its modern replica nearby. Rather fewer playgoers are aware of the adjacent Rose theatre (where his early plays premiered), although its site was extensively surveyed 20 years ago, providing a mass of new knowledge. The benefits of recent archival and archaeological discoveries about other theatres are currently confined to specialist research publications. Apart from those who teach or research the topic, few people know anything about the other 22 theatre venues which brought dramatic entertainment to all sectors of the rapidly increasing population of London over the 75 years from 1567 to 1642. This is the 'Shakespearean Period' of theatre, for which the project aims to promote a greater awareness among 21st century citizens.

The Victoria & Albert Museum's Theatre and Performance Department (incorporating all that used to be at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden) is the national home for public appreciation of the material culture of theatregoing in Shakespeare's time, and the work of this project will enhance its representation of the pre-Commonwealth period. From the theatre historians to the Victoria & Albert Museum (and on to the public) will be transferred knowledge about the Rose (built 1587) where Shakespeare's very first plays were premiered from 1590 to 1593; the Theatre and The Curtain in Shoreditch (built 1576 and 1577) where his plays written between 1594 and 1599 premiered; the Globe (built 1599) where his plays from 1599 to 1608 premiered; and the Blackfriars (built 1596) where his plays were performed from 1608. As well as these five venues, the project will provide knowledge on a further seventeen London theatres used by rival theatre companies, including the only open-air amphitheatre whose interior is shown in a surviving drawing - the Swan (built on Bankside in 1595, a quarter of a mile upstream of the Rose) - and the indoor theatres used by all-boy companies, such as the small theatre at St Paul's cathedral.

Planned Impact

Theatre is one of London's major cultural and economic activities, and tens of thousands of playgoers--Londoners and visitors--enjoy drama in a variety of modern venues. These venues derive their layout and configuration from the London theatres of Shakespeare's time, and playgoers are among the people most likely to want to increase their historical knowledge. London is a famously walkable city, and Londoners and visitors alike will find that the materials produced by this project enable them to undertake a variety of distinct walks, each taking in a number of the historical theatre sites. The project will thereby have an impact in enhancing London's attractiveness to tourists. Theatre-goers and tourists will benefit from the most up-to-date theatre-historical research, and teachers will be allowed to reuse all the materials generated without charge in their teaching.

The impact upon the Victoria & Albert Museum will be to enhance its stock of highly specific and up-to-date expertise and knowledge regarding the pre-Commonwealth theatres, a period for which its current provision is not so well-developed as it is for the post-Commonwealth stage. The impact will be felt within the institution in its new capacity to organize displays about this period, and in the public's greater engagement of its relevant holdings. By enhancing the Museum's capacity to fulfil its mission and by increasing London's attractiveness to tourists, the project will have an indirect (but nonetheless real) impact upon the nation's wealth and culture, and by encouraging walking it will have a positive impact upon its health too. Increasing tourist activity in London will have a positive economic impact on the businesses in the areas where the Shakespearean theatres used to be located (mainly within a two-mile radius of St Paul's).

The ability of Loughborough University (and specifically its Department of English & Drama) to engage public interest in its research activities and culture will be enhanced by this project. The full-time post-doctoral research assistant (PDRA) on the project will provide formal presentations and informal advice to the University on the mutual benefits of knowledge transfer, using this project as an illustration. Currently, a great deal of academic expertise and knowledge is locked away within the University, especially in departments concerned with the Arts and Humanities which (unlike the departments concerned with Science and Technology) have relatively little direct engagement with outside institutions and the wider public. The PDRA will also provide these presentation and advisory services to the Victoria & Albert Museum, and this individual will in return benefit from the Museum's extensive expertise in engaging the public in learning about the material culture of London. The PDRA will be the main conduit by which the project's knowledge transfer will be able to wash back and forth between the institutions.

The benefits of these impacts will begin to be felt during the 24-month project but will impact most immediately after its conclusion when the walking map, the booklet, the website, and the software applications are fully launched. (The project will partner with 'Visit London' to gain marketing/promotional visibility.) The map and booklet are likely to be long-lasting benefits because they can be repeatedly reprinted at little cost by the Victoria & Albert Museum. The website and software applications are inherently more prone to decay if not maintained. Loughborough University is committed to maintaining the website for at least two years following project completion. The Open University (whose expertise in making smartphone software applications will be bought in) estimates that such software has a shelf-life of around twelve months if not maintained to take advantage of new technological developments.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/I025786/1 12/09/2011 31/05/2012 £333,709
AH/I025786/2 Transfer AH/I025786/1 01/08/2012 31/10/2013 £260,860
Description We have not discovered anything in the 'contribution to knowledge' sense because this is a Knowledge Transfer Fellowship and we are not funded to do research. But we did discover a lot about how to engage the public, how to interact fruitfully with a museum, how to undertake commercial activities, and how to utilize forms of output (eg video) that we don't normally use in my field of theatre history. We developed a bunch of high-value resources and we transferred a lot of knowledge back and forth between the university and the museum.
Exploitation Route I think our project forms a pretty good model for others. In particular, on our website there is a very full set of documentation of our project meetings (including all the minutes) and a set of internal reports generated by our project and responded to by the museum. I think others would learn from there a fair bit about what went as expected and what caused us unanticipated trouble and delay.
Sectors Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description No update -- report was already complete
Sector Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic