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Rare theatre archive captures London life stories
23 May 2012
Greenwich, University of
The University of Greenwich is now home to a unique Reminiscence Theatre Archive capturing the life stories and memories of people and their communities from across London.
The collections of oral histories, DVDs and videos, scripts and performance materials have been given to the university for safekeeping by Pam Schweitzer, founder of the Age Exchange Theatre.
Pam spent 30 years collating the memories of elderly Londoners and using them as the basis of theatrical productions, initially working with professional actors and more recently with many of the memory sharers.
The archive addresses many key social issues and how they were experienced by people living in London, such as the introduction of the NHS, the decline of the docks and dramatic changes to the East End. The archive also records the experiences of Afro-Caribbean, Irish, Jewish and Indian immigrants and their communities.
“The University of Greenwich is the perfect place for the archive,” says Pam. “Not only are the drama students already engaged in using the material for performances, they are keen to undertake their own original work. “Furthermore, the university has a wide range of excellent departments beyond drama which can benefit from the material. These include the social historians who have been working on a remarkable collection of Memories of War from people across London and the South East, and the health and nursing students who are doing sterling work with older people in many settings.”
Pam, who lives in Blackheath, is now working with older people across Europe, including people with dementia, in a bid not only to capture their frequently vivid long-term memories but also to help them share their experiences with others.
Heather Lilley, Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of Greenwich, says: “This is an amazing resource which is really inspiring our second year applied drama students.
“They have already been working through the material in their own time and presented special performances at a reception to mark the archive being formally admitted to the university.
“Now they are planning to take their performances into care homes and other older people settings. Many of our students say they have had limited contact with elderly people and they are really eager to engage with them more and share in their memories and their knowledge. They are also aware that performances based on real-life experiences are a valuable tool to bring older people together to share their memories and their individual life stories.”