Designing Shakespeare: an audio-visual archive 1960-2000

Research Questions and Problems
Can a comprehensive audio-visual archive of performance information encourage further research into performance in English Departments and support teaching in Drama and Theatre Studies Departments?

Can oral history interviews with designers add significantly to the study of performance?

Can access to a large database of digital images based around a design theme encourage greater emphasis on the visual elements of performance for scholars and students of Shakespeare?

What can we conclude about the development of theatre design, theatre spaces and theatre practice generally over the forty year period covered using a wide-reaching audio-visual archive of this kind?

Is it possible to construct a new intellectual framework to support scholarly writing which incorporates both a traditional monograph and illustrative material in digital form?

Aims and Objectives
To draw together the strengths of the two researchers working in the Centre of Multimedia Performance History (COMPH) at Royal Holloway to create a scholarly resource for the study of Shakespearean performance unlike any which currently exists.

To test, in a focused pilot project, the usefulness of oral history for the study of performance.

To overcome the technical and copyright hurdles of a representative database which will be created for deposit with the PADS in Glasgow in mind, in order to provide a possible model for the discipline.

To create an audio-visual archive which is useful to a range of the disparate disciplines which approach the study of Shakespeare - focusing primarily on textual studies, performance history and the study of design.

To develop a computer interface which supports an intellectually rigorous framework of enquiry and brings together the strengths of printed text and digital materials.

Research Imperative and Context

The introduction of computers to the study of Shakespeare has allowed for the illustration of performance on video to accompany text. The movement towards the study of performance both in the commercial realm and also in many English Departments has, unfortunately, focused on film and television adaptation of the plays not on live theatre. This is partly the result of copyright restrictions when dealing with live performance and the ease of access to already produced adaptations for the screen but also there has been a decided movement way from the theatre and towards the metaphors of the film screen as a means of engaging televisually trained students. When theatre is represented it is usually only in terms of the spoken text and not in terms of the visual, temporal and spatial aspects of the theatre which make it unique. The aims of this project are twofold: on the one hand, it was designed to create a new kind of archive to support a rich audio-visually based study of live Shakespearean production; on the other hand, it was aimed at creating a new format for scholarly analysis which integrates the written text with digital illustration of live performance, bringing together the strengths of the book and the Internet.


Kinds of collaborators
Individual/small group
Help description
The project needs to be updated and made more flexible. There are 16 years of stage performances to add but the whole area of live broadcast to cinema screens also needs to be dealt with. A great deal has changed since this project was created.
Contact person
Help needed

Principal investigator
Dr Christie Carson
Principal project staff
Dr Christie Carson
Start date
Friday, September 1, 2000
Completion date
Saturday, February 1, 2003
Digital resources created
Designing Shakespeare has been developed to foster a greater understanding of the work of theatre designers in Britain and to facilitate the development of new ways of studying Shakespeare in performance. This audio-visual database covers all professional productions of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon and London between 1900 and 2000 and contains four distinct elements: A text database of production details and excerpts from theatre reviews. An image database of over 3500 production photographs. A collection of video interviews with theatre designers. A collection of VRML models of the key theatre spaces for Shakespearean production in Stratford and London. The aim of the project is to provide information about live performance and to encourage a comparative approach to theatrical interpretation, supporting the position that theatre practitioners provide a tradition of interpretation that can enhance the work of literary and performance scholars. A website that explores the implications of teaching using the materials from the Archive was created in partnership with the HEA English Subject Centre. This site can be found at
Source material
The production details and review extracts were collected from the London Theatre Record and from the production files of the Theatre Museum. This material was transcribed by the Research Assistant on the project Katie Lewis. The photographs were selected from the archive of the theatre photographer Donald Cooper, from the Archive of the Royal Shakespeare Company held at the Shakespeare Centre Library and from the private archive of Janet Arnold, former lecturer in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway University of London. The images were scanned as TIFF files and then converted to JPEG for web delivery. The interviews with designers were conducted specially for this project. They were recorded digitally and processed for web delivery as quicktime files. Copies of the full interviews were deposited with the British Library Sound Archive. The VRML models were created by Chris Dyer, collaborator on the project and research fellow in the Department of Drama, Royal Holloway University of London. These models were constructed from plans of the theatres obtained by Chris Dyer.

Carson, Christie. ‘A report on Virtual Reality (VR) in theatre history research: Creating a spatial context for performance.’ Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 13 (April, 2004): 2.1-12 .

Carson, Christie ‘Digital Resources for Teaching and Learning’ English Subject Centre Newsletter, Issue 6, February 2004, pp. 14-19.

Carson, Christie. 'The Evolution of Online Editing: Where will it end?' Shakespeare Association of America, Bermuda, March 17-19, 2005

Carson, Christie. ‘Comparative Visual Cultures: building a case’ Shakespeare Association of America, New Orleans, Louisiana, April 8-10, 2004

Carson, Christie. ‘From CD to the Internet: Freed of Constraints or Freed of Context?’ British Shakespeare Association at De Montfort University, Leicester, August 29-31, 2003

Carson, Christie. ‘From CD to the Internet: Freed of Constraints or Freed of Context?’ The Condition of the Subject, Senate House, July 17-19, 2003

Carson, Christie. ‘Digital Resources for the Study of Shakespeare’ International Theatre Research Conference, Waseda University, Tokyo, March 12-14, 2003

Carson, Christie. ‘Designing Shakespeare: Why Is An Audio-Visual Archive Necessary?’ Digital Resources in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, September 8-11, 2002

Carson, Christie. ‘Designing Shakespeare: making an audio-visual archive accessible’ Shared Visions, LTSN Centres for Art and Design, Architecture and Performance, Brighton, September 1-3, 2002

Carson, Christie. ‘Designing Shakespeare’ International Shakespeare Conference, The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon, August 18-23, 2002

Carson, Christie. ‘From CD to the Internet: Moving towards, accessibility, flexibility and fluidity’ 7th World Shakespeare Congress, Valencia, Spain, April 18-23, 2001

Project Collaborators