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Mapping the Origins of West End Theatre in London

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

This project will see the creation of a digital map to tell the story of the emergence of the West End in London as a world-renowned site for theatre, and to illuminate the connections between theatre sites and spaces and the plays and productions therein performed. The map will use ArcGIS Online to create a virtual “walking tour” experience, showing theatres in operation in London’s West End from 1660 to c. 1812 (the date of the opening of the fourth and present Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), with key information, both textual and visual, popping up when points on the map are selected. Locations will use colour-coding for different time periods, and to enable toggling between decades.

The geographical, architectural, and performance history of West End theatre is complex. With an absence of theatre spaces immediately available during the Restoration, theatrical performances sprang up in surprising places (including in converted tennis courts); the mainstream theatres that were built during this time period – the Royal Theatres at Drury Lane and Covent Garden – burnt down and were rebuilt, each time to different models; meanwhile, in spite of a duopoly that limited official theatre-making to two licensed companies, non-mainstream theatres sprang up in areas such as along the Strand, circumventing licensing laws through the use of musical accompaniment.

In terms of data, the starting points are location and architecture, with the aim of compiling key information on building dimensions, including stage types and technology, and audience spaces; and then selected data on key managers, genres, and indicative performances, giving particular attention to the revolutionary importance in the earlier part of the period of women’s involvement in the theatre – as authors and as actors, transforming the theatrical experience through the next century. Attention to genres, which were often particular to a given venue, will be a way of managing the vast array of plays, new and old, performed during the time period. The required research will be conducted in London, and full findings will be stored on a separate database.

View the published project here.

Principal Investigator

Peter Maber, London, English

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