National Theatre Black Plays Archive
HOW TO USE THIS SITE
In grouping various datasets and contextual resources together on the website we want to provide the easiest route possible for the user to discover at a glance all relevant resources for particular productions and playwrights. While we hope that the site and its search and browse functions are self-explanatory we have provided below a breakdown of the functions and resources of the site and instructions on how to use it in the way most productive for you.
The site comprises three datasets as well as audio recordings of scenes from the plays, video interviews and contextual material produced by the National Theatre. The datasets are a Playography (production details of all first productions of professionally produced plays), a Bibliography and a Union Catalogue (so called as it brings together archival records for productions from archives around the UK). At the NT Archive you can access a library of published and unpublished playtexts for many of the plays documented herein. The individual datasets are described in greater detail below in the ‘How the Site is Constructed’ section.
The most straightforward approach to using the site is to type the title of a play or name of a playwright into the relevant search box on the home page. You can quickly identify the type of results you have returned by the icons to the left of the results. These indicate whether the result is a playwright’s biography page , a production record , Company or Theatre by selecting from the same icons above the results you can filter them to return only that type of result. All results can be further sorted chronologically and alphabetically.
Explore the Archive
The advanced search options are accessed via ‘Explore the Archive’ below the site banner, by clicking on ‘Search’ or ‘Browse’ just below Explore the Archive you can choose to switch between those options.
Using the ‘Explore the Archive’ search options is useful when you have limited information about a play. General search boxes are found in a row across the top of this section where you can search by ‘production name’, by ‘playwright name’ and ‘general keywords’. These general searches can be made more specific by completing the advanced options under ‘production specific’ search heading. The search options can be used independently or combined to narrow your results.
Here you can set limit the cast numbers as appropriate to the plays for which you want to view production pages. If perhaps you are searching for a play but remember only that it was a monologue performed by a woman you could chose to enter ‘monologue’ in the general keywords box, set the maximum cast size option to 1 and the minimal female cast size to 1. Or perhaps your drama group are looking for a large ensemble piece - to return relevant results you might set the minimum cast size to 10.
Setting the date range option will return results based on the year of the first production of plays. This option is very useful in considering the range of work produced in a particular period or year. To search for productions in a single year scroll the date counter in both boxes to the same year. To extend the range of the search to earlier years scroll the date counter in the first box back through the century and for later years scroll the date counter in the second box forward in years. As we know of no qualifying work produced prior to 1900 we have set this as the earliest date.
By selecting one of the radio buttons you can choose to narrow your search by its publication status.
By ticking the checkboxes you are narrowing your search to productions for which the site holds those types of media.
Venue and Company
Completing these fields will narrow your search to return plays produced by specific companies at specific venues.
Under Explore the Archive you can choose to browse the Black Plays Archive by production title, playwright, period, company or theatre. The panel to the right of the browse options presents a slideshow featuring a selection of images of plays, companies, theatres and playwrights.
Browse results for production titles return the title, year and short synopsis of plays these can then be clicked to display relevant production pages. Browsing by playwright returns the playwright names and short biographical texts in alphabetical order; these can be clicked to display the relevant biography page. Browse by period returns results in chronological order by decade, clicking on a result leads to its production page. The browse by company and theatre options return results alphabetically which can be followed through to pages listing all relevant works produced or presented by the company or theatre respectively.
The featured content on the site is a selection of the media the National Theatre has produced or commissioned to stimulate further interest in the history of black playwrights. Included in this section are audio recordings of scenes from the plays; video interviews with playwrights; essays on production history and on playwrights, styles and genre. The featured content can also be found attached to relevant productions throughout the site.
How the site is constructed:
At the heart of this project is the attempt to document the first productions of plays by black British, African and Caribbean writers in the UK. By the term playography we refer to the range of production data listed for each show: we include, where available, details for cast and creative teams, date and venue, setting, synopsis and rights information. While it is useful to describe the varying functions of the site separately (Playography, Bibliography, Union Catalogue) in using the site you will find results from the three sections grouped into individual production pages.
A few caveats are necessary:
Some production records contain minimal information on cast, creative teams and archival resources. Records for these plays are often difficult to find or do not exist. Research is ongoing to support our filling-out of existing records and addition of new records.
We do not as yet include records of revivals
The site is particularly weak on non-English language productions.
As we are developing the project we would appreciate your sending us comments, additional data or suggestions to help us improve the site. The ‘Contribute’ button on to the upper right hand side of the site opens an e-mail form, which you can complete and send to the project team.
On all production and biography pages we list, where available, the title, publisher and publication date information for relevant published playtexts and anthologies, we also indicate if the text is held at the NT Archive. A link is usually provided to Copac (the catalogue for all the UK’s national libraries, University libraries, and specialist research libraries) for further bibliographic detail and locations of copies held in UK libraries.
The Union Catalogue is gateway to descriptions of archival records related to plays included in the project, each entry includes a file title, archive reference code and repository details; where online catalogues or repository websites are available we provide links.
An overview of a playwright’s work can be obtained from their biography pages which list and link to all their first production records and relevant publications. These pages can be discovered via a simple search from the homepage, by following links from production pages or via the browse function in advanced search.