Backstage Heritage Collection Aims to Document Technical Theatre History

by Jacob Coakley

 The Backstage Heritage Collection aims to preserve vintage backstage equipmentThe Backstage Heritage Collection has launched, with a mission to chart the history of stage lighting and other backstage technologies. They will  comprehensively documenting vintage equipment on-line, gathering together high quality present-day images with original design, promotion and marketing materials and remembrances from those who originally created and used the products in order to create a virtual museum; and, where possible, they hope to preserve equipment by finding people able and willing to give it a safe, accessible home. 

Backstage Heritage Collection To Debut at PLASA 2014
Organisation created to document and preserve historical lighting and other theatrical equipment to meet the world at mid-day on PLASA’s opening Sunday

The Backstage Heritage Collection, a new organisation aiming to document and, where possible, preserve the history of entertainment production technology, will introduce itself to the world this Sunday, October 5th, at the 2014 PLASA Show. The launch event will take place at mid-day on the Theatres Trust TheatreStage, stand R40, at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London.

Being created from a series of conversations, discussions and meetings amongst like-minded theatre professionals dissapointed by the lack of any kind of museum or organisation charting the history of stage lighting and other backstage technologies, the Backstage Heritage Collection aims to tackle these issues. The organisation’s twin hopes: to comprehensively document vintage equipment on-line, gathering together high quality present-day images with original design, promotion and marketing materials and reminisces from those who originally created and used the products - a virtual museum. Then, where possible, to preserve equipment by finding people able and willing to give it a safe, accessible home - a distributed museum, or collection of collections.

“The aim primarily is to make sure that the equipment that shaped the way our industry works is carefully documented and brought together with the amazing memories that seeing their products again stirs up in those pioneers who first created and used them,” explains lighting designer/programmer and entertainment technology writer Rob Halliday, one of those behind the project. “After that, we’re coming to think of it as a lonely hearts agency for old lighting equipment, or perhaps a lighting lending library. The aim is to find organisations - suppliers, theatres, colleges - that are as fascinated by this equipment as us and are prepared to give it a home, whether to put it on show to attract the attention of visitors, or to study it to see how it shaped the way we do things now.”

Entertainment lighting supplier White Light is already providing a home for some of the Backstage Heritage Collection, racks in their offices proudly displaying a 1970 Strand IDM memory console, later Gemini and Galaxy consoles, plus consoles from Celco, Zero88 and Berkey Colortran. “The reaction has been amazing,” comments White Light’s Operations Director, Chris Nicholls. “As soon as people see them they literally stop in their tracks and come over to play with them. We’ve even had people coming in specially just to see the one of the consoles - usually whichever they first operated.”

Other items of vintage equipment under the Backstage Heritage umbrella will be on show at PLASA: the vintage Strand ‘half lights’ used to educate users about the innards of lighting fixtures at the company’s famous King Street showroom, which have long been in the care of lighting collector Jim Laws, will be decorating Strand Lighting’s centenary bar at the show.

The launch event, mid-day on Sunday on the Theatres Trust Theatre Stage (stand R40) is the perfect opportunity to find out more from some of those bringing the collection to life, including lighting designer and theatre consultant Richard Pilbrow, Strand Archive website creator Jon Primrose, Jim Laws, the ABTT’s Robin Townley and many others. Richard Pilbrow will also be leading a panel later in the afternoon (at 3.45pm) looking at the past, present and future of lighting control that will reference many of the control systems the Collection is hoping to preserve.

Further information about this year’s PLASA Show can be found at www.plasashow.com.

Further information about the Backstage Heritage Collection can be found at www.backstageheritage.org, or via Twitter: @backstagecoll.