Monday, 26 September 2011

History from the Bottom Up.

We're into the second week of lectures now and in the main the students seem focused, happy and curious about the work. In London Theatre Now I've been trying to set out a brief context for our current scene by offering a swift history of theatre in London from the first Shoreditch playhouses of the 1570s to the present day.

It's a difficult journey for some of the cohort to go on. Dates, events, monarchs, plays, actors and buildings running parallel as separate but interlinking narratives. I sense I go too fast, as we rush thorough the Jacobean age to the interregnum, the restoration, the glorious revolution, the eighteenth century and onwards ever onwards into the realism of the Victorian age, bourgeoisification, matinee idols, American influences, commercial musicals and long runs.

I know in some ways my teaching style is old fashioned, favouring, as it does the belief that a chronological understanding gives us the clear outline from which all our subsequent observations might be made. Looking out into the auditorium I can see some furrowed brows.

So why is it so important?

Well, for me, having this knowledge provides a sort of route map that helps avoid stupid mistakes or assumptions. It's a form of security that offers order and a fixed point from which to begin to explore. A base 'given' from where we can look at what was and might be possible.

Later on, as they read and research, I hope the students will redraw the map, deciding what the key moments really were, determining history in such a way that prioritises their own politics and sense of progress. For now though, I sense, the most important thing is simply to establish some past events as a common vocabulary.

For all the impossibility of trying to cram 450 years into a two hour lecture, I thought the session began to provide a shape to things that with further reading might come more into focus. Remember it's only one way of many to tell the story.

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