Erin Lee

Should Theatre Disappear Like Soap Bubbles?

Erin Lee
Head of Archive, National Theatre


I recently read an excerpt from a 2004 interview with Peter Hall where he claims that he was happy for his materials to disappear ‘like soap bubbles’ (The Homecoming: An Interview with Peter Hall held at the American Film Theatre Collection). One of the fundamentally difficult things about archiving theatre, aside from its ephemeral nature, is the approach that creatives take to their work. Not only do we need to battle the format of live performance but we also need to convince many creatives, not all I must add, that their work can and should remain in the Archive for use in the future.

In this paper I propose to look at how the National Theatre Archive currently approaches documentation of process and what its collections are used for by internal and external stakeholders. I’ll focus on the New Work department, which shares the same building as the Archive, and involved the Archive in a recent creative process. I will also look at what is missing from our holdings such as design process and staff voices and discuss what steps we are taking to remedy this. There are glimmers of potential in the area of documenting process with increasingly fertile discussions between academics, archivists and creatives so it is an exciting time to be a performing arts archivist.


Erin Lee is the Head of Archive at the National Theatre and is particularly interested in the documentation of creative process. Erin graduated from Oxford in 2010 with an MA in Classics and from Syracuse, New York in 2012 with an MS in Library and Information Science having worked in the University Archives alongside her degree. She is Chair of the Association of Performing Arts Collections, a subject specialist network for archives, museums and libraries containing performing arts content in the UK. She also heads up the Archive Trainees Group and is a Trustee of the National Jazz Archive.