“A Repertory Company on Wheels” – The Actors Touring Company Archive

Assistant Curator, Alice Young, takes a closer look at the Actors Touring Company Archive.

The V&A Department of Theatre and Performance recently acquired the Actors Touring Company Archive. The London-based touring company aims to present international contemporary theatre to audiences in the UK and worldwide.

Cutting from The Scotsman, announcing the Fringe First Awards 1978. Actors Touring Company Archive, THM/474. © Actors Touring Company.

Founded in Paris in 1978 by artistic director John Retallack, Actors Touring Company (ATC) quickly became known for its critically acclaimed adaptations and translations of classic works – including Lord Byron’s Don Juan (1978), Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1980) and Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (titled Ubu the Vandalist, 1982). ATC’s inaugural production of Don Juan was awarded a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1978, and subsequently went on to tour Scotland and then England.

Don Quixote, 1980. Actors Touring Company Archive, THM/474. © Actors Touring Company.

Since then, Actors Touring Company has actively pursued a policy of internationalism, and has performed in over 30 different countries – including Brazil, India, China and Iraq. The company’s archive comprises nearly 40 years of production materials, containing correspondence, budgets, touring schedules, scripts, marketing materials, programmes, reviews and photographs – in addition to papers relating to ATC’s education and outreach projects.

Programme for ATC’s South America Tour, 1981. Actors Touring Company Archive, THM/474. © Actors Touring Company.

The archive is an interesting and significant addition to the V&A’s Theatre and Performance collections. While we aim to document and collect material relating to all areas of performing arts within the UK, Actors Touring Company’s transnational nature – performing all over the world with a cast of international performers, writers and directors – makes this archive an important record of truly international theatre-making. Languages represented in the archive include French, German, Polish and Portuguese among many others.

Audition notice, The Stage newspaper, 1981. Actors Touring Company Archive, THM/474. © Actors Touring Company.

Once described as “a repertory company on wheels”, Actors Touring Company’s archive gives an insight into what life is like for a theatre company on the road. Detailed tour schedules list a whirlwind itinerary of flights, hotel stays, rehearsals, venues, workshops and performances, providing a unique vision of a touring production’s vibrant and ever-changing nature.

Flyer for ATC’s season at the Donmar Warehouse, 1983. Actors Touring Company Archive, THM/474. © Actors Touring Company.

ATC often toured several productions concurrently, and its reputation as a touring repertory company grew. Many actors stayed with the company for as long as three continuous years, performing as an ensemble in a number of different plays. By 1983 ATC had five different touring productions in its repertoire.

Flyer for The Brothers Size at Festival de Barcelona, 2008. Actors Touring Company Archive, THM/474. © Actors Touring Company

The Actors Touring Company continues to pursue its policy of internationalism – frequently collaborating with international writers, directors, artists, and actors – and commissions a mix of translations, adaptations, and new writing. In 2008 the company received an Olivier Award nomination for The Brothers Size at the Young Vic, and won an Olivier Award for their production of Gone Too Far!  with the Royal Court Theatre. The company continues to tour both throughout the UK and internationally.

The Actors Touring Company Archive charts the company’s growth from a three-week run in an Edinburgh church hall to winning an Olivier Award on the West End – bringing international work to the UK and making theatre collaboratively with theatremakers from abroad.

Once cataloguing is completed, materials from the archive will be available to view via appointment in our Blythe House reading room (please contact tmenquiries@vam.ac.uk for more information).

To find out more about the V&A Theatre and Performance archive collections visit Search the Archives.

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