From Venice to London – the short story of an Erasmus experience

Theatre and Performance
January 12, 2018

Former Erasmus volunteer , Martina Ferrari, shares her experience of working with the Theatre and Performance Collections.

It was March 2016 and there I was: a graduate from the university of Venice, unemployed, kind of lost, ready to jump (metaphorically, of course).

Graduating is not easy, and I am not talking about writing a dissertation. Facing the big, real, world that comes after you’ve finished university, that is the real problem. Especially in a country where the number of young unemployed people increases vertiginously year after year. Thanks, Italy.

Thinking about an experience abroad, as “something-to-do-after-the-graduation”, came quite natural to me. The Erasmus Project is a project that allows university students to study or work abroad, helping them with a scholarship given by European funds. It’s a great opportunity, and more and more students every year understandably decide to apply to it. (Fun fact, we are actually called “The Erasmus generation”.)

I carried out a lot of research to find a place that not only could offer a stimulating and instructive experience, but that could also accept a student with a meagre working background like me. When the Theatre & Performance Department’s Archive replied positively to my emails, I couldn’t believe it. I obviously already knew the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the idea of working for such an important cultural institution was beyond my best hopes. Also, London has always had a great appeal to me, so I was even more excited about the idea of living there for three entire months.

Exterior of Blythe House © Victoria & Albert Museum

The actual headquarters of the Archive is in Blythe House, in west London. Blythe House was built between 1899 and 1903 as the Headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank, and is now shared as archive and deposit by three different museums. It is an outrageously wide building, and on my first day, as my tutor was showing me around, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how often and easily I would have been lost.

As I said, my internship lasted three months (and a half), during which I completed a huge variety of tasks. I sorted, re-housed and described a couple of incoming small collections, I reorganised and re-housed a part of the vast collection of theatrical programs, I created synopsis guides to archival video recordings. I shadowed members of the staff in going out to assess or collect incoming collections. I participated in staff meetings and I was introduced to all the different aspects of the archival and librarian jobs.

There is a long tradition of volunteers helping with the Theatre and Performance Collections as seen in this photograph of Mrs Gabrielle Enthoven, founding collector of the V&A Theatre and Performance collection, with her team of volunteers, c. 1930s. From Gabrielle Enthoven Personal Papers Archive (archive no. THM/114) © Victoria & Albert Museum

I couldn’t have hoped for a more complete, stimulating, useful experience. Thanks to this internship, I realized that I am actually interested in this kind of job: I am currently attending a master course in Archival and Librarian Studies in Venice, and I am pretty sure that this is the future I want. I will always be grateful to the amazing people at Blythe House for their welcome and support, without their help I would still probably be a bit lost.

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