Exploring our Heritage | An Audience With The Past

22 Feb 2019

In celebration of our Theatre's exciting Heritage offer, we spoke with the artists responsible for creating the various interpretations you can uncover around our building. Here we find out more about 'An Audience with the Past', created by Bristol-based Emily Ketteringham.

Introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
I am a printmaker and maker, living and working in Bristol. I have a studio at Centrespace, just a couple of minutes from the Theatre.

What piece of interpretation did you design, and what were the ideas behind it?
I created ‘An Audience With The Past’, which can be seen on the horseshoe walls of the Dress Circle, Upper Circle and Macara Gallery. The idea behind the design was to use images from the archive of posters and playbills to create a colourful and eclectic audience that is inviting you in to join them. The characters are chatting away merrily before the start of the performance and are flanked by walls of text taken from 250 years worth of playbills and posters (if you look carefully you will find the playbill from the opening night).

The text-based posters and playbills have been chosen to represent the wide range of visual treats that audiences have been able to watch over the years – there are posters for plays, dances, melodramas, pantomimes, musicals, trapeze acts, handsome horses… I hope that visitors will take the time to read the small text in the older playbills, some of which are extremely funny.

The figures (mostly from posters, but some from archive images) are all carefully chosen and positioned in relation to each other – in my mind, they are all telling a particular story, but I hope viewers will make up stories of their own.

The words being spoken by the characters all come from research at the Theatre Collection. Words in grey are quotes from actors, yellow quotes come from backstage, and the white words are from letters sent by the public.

Hopefully all of the elements work together to create bold and playful images that will intrigue, and reward further inspection.

Why did you want to get involved with the Bristol Old Vic Heritage project?
I have wanted to work on a heritage project for a long time so this brief was just perfect. A lot of my personal work is based on my collection of old maps; I have a love of leafing through old papers. The opportunity to look through the collections was not one to be missed. Looking through old books, so delicate they had to be rested on special cushions at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, and taking in the delicious smell of the stacks at Bristol Archives were real highlights of the project for me.

How was the experience of working a team consisting of project managers, archivists and Bristol Old Vic staff?
This is the most ambitious project I have worked on so far, and certainly the one with the largest number of people involved.  What was clear from the very start was just how passionate everyone was about the Theatre and its heritage. It was a real joy to work with so many interesting and interested people.

What were the challenges of working on your piece of interpretation, and how did you overcome them?
One of the big challenges was actually finding enough high resolution scans of characters to make up the audience. The heritage and archive teams were absolutely fantastic in helping me to chase down images that I could use.

At the other extreme, there were just so many wonderful posters and playbills to choose from for the text elements of the design that the challenge was the exact opposite – how to narrow down the selection and decide which ones to use. I ended up making choices based on theme, date, typography, detail, how much they made me laugh…

Are you happy with how the final product turned out?
I am very happy with my final three walls.  I really like the way you catch glimpses of the design from the foyer and café, and how it changes with the different light of the day. I am especially pleased with my chatty, misbehaving audience up in the Macara Gallery. It has been lovely to watch people exploring the piece, and laughing as they spot details in the playbills, or read one of the quotes.

To find out more about our Heritage offer and our Theatre's rich 252 year-history, click here.