Visit to the Scottish Theatre Archive

theatre visit
From left: Fiona Brodie, Paul Maloney, Howard Brodie, Mia Spiro and Deborah Butcher. Photo supplied courtesy of Fiona Brodie, Scottish Jewish Archives Centre ©
morning star poster
One of a selection of 1950s theatre posters on display.  Image kindly supplied by Claire McKendrick, Scottish Theatre Archives©

On Tuesday 29th March, Mia Spiro and Deborah Butcher enjoyed fascinating lunchtime visit to the Scottish Theatre Archive (housed within Glasgow University Library), accompanied by Fiona and Howard Brodie from the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre.  First we were treated to a tour by Claire McKendrick, followed by a display in the Seminar Room.    Various sources were on show, including posters, programmes, a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings, and hand-annotated scripts complete with by stage sketches and director’s notes.

Of particular interest are a selection of photos of stage scenes of Ansky’s classic supernatural tale of Jewish folklore ‘The Dybbuk’ – acting in an exaggerated style perhaps to engage an audience unversed in the Yiddish – are exhibited.    Alongside are two character sketches signed Bet Low:  the first of a distinctive middle-aged woman, her rugged facial features buried beneath a mass of curly hair and her stout frame concealed by traditional rustic costume;  the second of a tall, slender man with serious expression.  Both are vaguely familiar and generate much discussion, although their identities remain frustratingly elusive.

Howard’s father, Maxwell Brodie (1926-1998), was actor, stage manager and director with the Jewish Institute Players, the Avrom Greenbaum Players and the Unity Theatre, his involvement spanning half a century.   For Howard (who also performed with the Avrom Greenbaum Players) many of the names and faces appearing in cast lists and photos are also family friends.   Indeed Fiona credits some of the Players’ success to the fact they belonged to such a close-knit community – living, working, worshipping and socialising in close proximity – affording them ample opportunities to rehearse, share ideas and refine their craft.

Claire’s demonstration of the online catalogue – searchable by name, document, collection and event – equips us to independently discover materials relevant to our interests.  Key holdings include the papers and correspondence of actor and director Samm Hankin, and the articles and letters of the acclaimed actress Ida Schuster.  Avrom Greenbaum’s correspondence with individual playwrights (such as Sylvia Regan) promise to reveal something of his broader cultural impact, and, reciprocally, his own creative influences.   There are also various materials relating to the Glasgow Unity Theatre, with whom the Players temporarily amalgamated during the 1940s.  These mostly pre-1960 sources complement the extensive Avrom Greenbaum Players collection (as the Jewish Institute Players later restyled themselves) housed at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre.

Later on we were joined by Dr Paul Maloney, Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast.   Paul has previously explored the history of the Scottish music hall.  He is now working upon cataloguing the Jewish Institute Players’ collection, assessing various aspects of their history including the influence of vaudeville, and popular variety theatre, on Scottish Jewish amateur dramatics.  All in all, this was a highly informative and enjoyable introduction to the Scottish Theatre Archive.

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