Oral histories of performing arts and music

Photograph of Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig Theatre by the Lake, 2003
Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig Theatre by the Lake 2003. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Wright

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?



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.