Sphinx Theatre Company (formerly The Women's Theatre Group) Archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of the administrative and artistic management papers of the Sphinx Theatre Company (formerly the Women's Theatre Group) from its beginnings in 1973 to 2013. The main core of the archive consists of production management files, photographs and posters, press cuttings, project proposals, company and productions accounts, grants and funding materials, and the papers of the writers' group. Also contained in the archive are materials relating to the 'Brave New Roles' prize, 'Glass Ceiling' and 'Vamps Vixens and Feminists' events held by the company and the 'Flogging the Jewels' exhibition.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Women's Theatre Group evolved out of Ed Berman's desire to mount an Almost Free Lunch-time Theatre 'Women's Festival' in 1973. Many women writers, directors, stage managers and performers responded to Berman's idea and took the decision to work via a series of open meetings to which any interested women could come to read and discuss scripts thus avoiding the hierarchical processes regarded as typical of the male-dominated theatre scene. The aim was to allow ideas and productions to develop organically but inevitably the pressure of having a show ready for the deadline meant that the group decided on scripted shows cast in the conventional way.

The Women's Festival programme included the work of established writers Pam Gems and Michelene Wandor, and only one hitherto unproduced writer, Jane Wibberley (Buzz Goodbody was among those who acted in the festival). The relatively 'safe' nature of the eventual season resulted in a split between those involved in the festival into the Women's Company who opted to work in the conventional way, with a number of established theatre professionals in the company, and the Women's Theatre Group opting to devise their work collectively and to produce pieces for the community (teenagers in particular). Their first piece was Fantasia (1974), followed by My Mother Says I Never Should (1975) chronicling teenage sexual experience, Work to Role (1976) about the kind of jobs available to female school leavers and Out On the Costa del Trico (1977) about the equal pay strike by women working at the Trico windscreen wiper factory in London. These early plays were agit-prop and epic in form in common with much alternative theatre of the time. In 1978 the group employed writers for the first time, commissioning Hot Spot from Eileen Fairweather and Melissa Murrary. Encouraging new work by women had always been part of the company's remit and from this point on, commissioning new writing became a cornerstone of their policy.

In 1974 the Women's Theatre Group's aim was to provide roles for women in the theatre as directors, stage managers, and writers and to produce work which reflected the struggle for equal rights. In 1990 the Women's Theatre Group became the Sphinx Theatre Company reflecting their recognition of the need to move "from the barricades to the mainstream" in terms of their presentation of, and meditations on, the role of women in theatre and the world. The company’s first production as Sphinx Theatre Company was The Roaring Girls Hamlet (1992) followed by Every Bit of It (1992). The company then produced April de Angelis’s Playhouse Creatures (1993) which went on to tour the UK twice. There were then a run of successful UK tours: Chandralekha (1994), Black Sail White Sail (1995), Hanjo (1995), Voyage In the Dark (1996), Goliath (1997), The Snow Palace (1998), Vita & Virginia (1999), Sweet Dreams (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006), A Wedding Story (2000), Cherished Disappointments in Love (2001), As You Like It (2003), The Little Mermaid (2004) and Blame (2006, 2008). In 2005 the company celebrated over 30 years of involvement in theatre with Flogging the Jewels: A Celebratory Exhibition at the National Theatre. In 2006 the Company was funded by The Wellcome Trust to produce Yellow, which explored post-natal depression.

In 2007 Sphinx Theatre lost its status as an Arts Council Regularly Funded Organisation, which shifted the company’s focus to one off events funded firstly by the Arts Council Diversity Managed Funds and the Arts Council Grants for the Arts. These events began as a series of conferences entitled Vamps, Vixens and Feminists, providing a professional forum to discuss the issues around women’s employment and representation in theatre, film and TV alongside The Writers’ Guild, Equity, the Directors Guild of Great Britain, Women in Film and TV, and the Arts Council. Vamps, Vixens and Feminists; The Elephant in the Room (2009) took place at the National Theatre followed by Vamps, Vixens and Feminists; Fighting the Backlash (2010) at the Young Vic and Vamps, Vixens and Feminists In the North (2011) at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Sphinx also produced a performance and panel discussion for the first WOW Festival at the Southbank Centre in 2011 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. These conferences then led to the development of Sphinx Theatre’s inaugural Women Centre Stage Festival which took place at the Actors Centre and The National Theatre Temporary Space in March 2015 as a two day festival of workshops, panel discussions and new writing.

Sphinx Theatre are currently working on the next Women Centre Stage Festival and A Berlin Kabaret, which debuted at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2014, winning the award for ‘Best Cabaret’ and an Argus Angel for Artistic Excellence.

Arrangement

These papers have been arranged chronologically or alphabetically as follows:

  • THM/322/1 - Company Minutes
  • THM/322/2 - General company correspondence
  • THM/322/3 - Artistic Director correspondence
  • THM/322/4 - Writers' and Writers' Group correspondence and papers
  • THM/322/5 - Production files (including publicity material, press cuttings and accounts)
  • THM/322/6 - Photographs
  • THM/322/7 - Posters
  • THM/322/8 - Press cuttings
  • THM/322/9 - Grants and Fundraising files
  • THM/322/10 - Contracts
  • THM/322/11 - Glass Ceiling Events files
  • THM/322/12 - Scripts and Promptscripts
  • THM/322/13 - Audiovisual material

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for consultation in the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance's Reading Room, which is located at Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, Olympia, London, W14 0QX. The Reading Room is open Tuesday to Friday between 10.15 am and 4.30 pm. Access to it is by appointment only. To request an appointment please email tmenquiries@vam.ac.uk or telephone 020 7942 2698.

Access to some of these files may be restricted. These are identified at file level.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Sphinx Theatre Company, 2006.

New acquisition received 2015.

Conditions Governing Use

Archive material may not be photocopied. Arrangements can be made to photograph material in the reading room using non-flash photography.

Access to some of these files may be restricted. These are identified at file level.

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

Accruals

Further accruals are likely.

Related Material

Further information about the Sphinx Theatre Company may be found in the core and library collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.