Our collections include interviews with musicians, theatre designers, directors, circus performers, administrators, technicians and others involved in the performing arts.
About the collection
Our oral history collections cover a cross-section of those involved in the performing arts. Projects and collections include recordings with those involved in theatre, the circus, opera, ballet and jazz.
Other relevant material can be found in our recordings of drama and performance art and pop, world and classical music. There are also significant BBC and independent radio broadcast recordings which use interviews with musicians as their focus.
What is available online?
- An Oral History of Theatre Design includes 17 full-length oral history interviews with post-war theatre designers including Ralph Koltai, Lis Evans, Pamela Howard and Billy Meall; Oral History Curator's choice includes a compilation of short tracks from the same collection.
- The Legacy of the English Stage Company covers the careers of theatre directors and other theatre practitioners associated at some time with the Royal Court Theatre, London. Interviewees include Stephen Frears, Bill Bryden and Peter Gill.
- Interviews with ethnomusicologists comprises recordings of ten leading ethnomusicologists discussing their working lives.
- The Theatre Archive Project interviewed actors, dancers, directors and others in order to reinvestigate British theatre history 1945-1968.
- Oral History of Glyndebourne Opera includes interviews with singers, administrative staff, backstage technicians and gardeners.
- Oral History of Recorded Sound (selected recordings online for higher/further education institutions only; full collection available in our reading rooms) is a collection of 111 interviews with people involved in all areas of the recording industry.
- An Oral history of Jazz in Britain (online for higher/further education institutions or in our reading rooms only) constitutes an informal and anecdotal history of the music, venues and people that defined jazz in the UK.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
- An Oral History of British Theatre Design charts the developments in post-war British theatre design. Interviewees only available in the Reading Rooms include Yolanda Sonnabend, Alison Chitty and Hildegard Bechtler.
- Unfinished Histories documents British alternative theatre from the late 1960s to the mid- 1980s through oral history interviews and the collecting of archival documents.
- Mothers and Daughters – A Jewish Archive is a collection of 50 interviews with Jewish women of various ages and cultural backgrounds recorded by the Pascal Theatre Company.
- The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Interviews were recorded with retired and working members in 1982 and depicts a picture of theatre life within living memory.
- Athene Seyler, president of RADA and of the Theatrical Ladies Guild, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life.
- The NSA: General collection includes interviews with theatre designers Jocelyn Herbert and Tanya Moiseiwitsch.
- The Royal Opera House Sound Archive comprises interviews with a range of ROH employees, including backstage technical staff, dancers, patrons, the archivist, Chief Executive and Balletshoe Mistress.
- The Verdi Oral History Project is a series of interviews with singers, conductors, music staff and musicians carried out by Jon Tolansky for the Royal Opera House Verdi Centenary Project 2001.
- Dame Adeline Genée, ballerina at The London Empire Theatre, 1897-1907, was interviewed in 1965.
- British Brass Musicians interviews were recorded as part of the 'Cultures of Brass' research project by Professor Trevor Herbert. This investigated the way that brass playing in Britain has changed over the last 300 years.
- Nancy Evans, mezzo-soprano, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life.
- Unsung: An Oral History of the UK Music Business has 25 interviews recorded by Dave Laing covering the fields of pop music, folk and classical.
- The Living Memory of the Jewish Community includes interviews with prominent musicians Anita Lasker Wallfisch and the late Alice Herz Sommer.
- The Millennium Memory Bank, one of our major national oral history projects and surveys, has recordings with 31 respondents who state their occupation as ‘musician’, including members of Asian Dub Foundation, Aniruddha Das and John Ashok Pandit.
Circus and Music Hall
- Oral History of the Circus features interviews with circus performers, members of the old circus families and others who recall a circus industry and way of life now long passed.
- The magician Don Ricardo is included within the NSA: General collection.
- The Vicinus Music Hall Interviews were conducted during the summers of 1974-5 with British music hall performers, many recorded at Brinsworth House, a retirement home for performers.