After 10 months of research, archiving and digitisation, Half Moon Theatre’s new Stages of Half Moon heritage website is now live at www.stagesofhalfmoon.org.uk, providing public access to the theatre’s records for the first time since its inception in 1972.
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Local residents, historians, theatre buffs and members of the public can now explore 44 years of theatre history through photographs, programmes, news stories, documents, videos and filmed interviews with over 100 local residents and theatre professionals connected with the theatre’s rich past.
An award from the Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots programme in 2015 enabled the company to work with young people to explore the East London theatre’s history from 1972 to 2016. Stages of Half Moon launched with a festival of Youth Theatre performances, inspired by some of the company’s iconic productions, and special performances by Half Moon alumni Josie Lawrence, Linda Marlowe, Anna-Maria Nabirye and Michael Irving, one of the original founders of Half Moon Theatre in 1972.
As part of the project young people gained skills in research and interviewing, including oral history, and recorded on film the memories of over 100 people who have been involved with the company in various capacities over the years: artistic, backstage, administrative, as a youth participant or audience member.
Amongst those who shared their memories for the project were the theatre’s two surviving co-founders and artistic directors, Guy Sprung and Michael Irving, and subsequent artistic directors Robert Walker and Chris Bond, as well as many of the other people who played a key role in the success of Half Moon Theatre, including Steven Berkoff, Simon Callow, Maggie Steed and Frances de la Tour.
An accompanying Stages of Half Moon exhibition of 56 posters and photographs covering the entire history of Half Moon Theatre is currently on display at Gallery @ Half Moon until 1 September, before touring to three further London venues: Whitechapel Idea Store (6 October-5 November), Royal Holloway University of London (8 November-19 December), and Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (9 January-30 March).
Half Moon are still looking for photographs, reviews, design sketches, programmes, photographs and other artefacts from its history, particularly from its time at Alie Street and Mile End Road in the 1970s and early 1980s, as an arson attack in 1981 destroyed some of the archive. Anyone wanting to help should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Half Moon was founded in 1972 in a disused synagogue in Aldgate and moved to an old Methodist chapel in Stepney, which was later refurbished into a state-of-the-art modern theatre. During this period, Half Moon was known for bold work, such as Steven Berkoff’s Sink the Belgrano!, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! and Frances de la Tour as a female Hamlet.
The company had, for its time, a radical ethos of inclusivity, involving local communities in the work. In 1989 the company went into voluntary liquidation, but Half Moon Young People’s Theatre established itself as a separate entity and still thrives today as the UK’s leading small-scale young people’s venue and touring company, with the local community at the heart of its ethos.
Chris Elwell, Director of Half Moon said: “It has been an absolute pleasure to research the rich history of Half Moon Theatre. It has been a rewarding experience to work with our young people to re-discover this important legacy and we are delighted that we can now share it with a new generation online at www.stagesofhalfmoon.org.uk. A huge thank you to the Heritage Lottery Fund, to the theatre’s fantastic alumni who have shared their incredible stories with us, and to all the local people who have brought in posters and programmes, we really couldn’t have done it without you. However, the work hasn’t finished. We’re still looking for more artefacts, particularly from our time at Alie Street and Mile End Road in the 1970s and early 1980s where we currently have a few gaps. If you have anything tucked away please get in touch by emailing email@example.com.”
Half Moon Theatre’s digital archive is available at www.stagesofhalfmoon.org.uk.