For this month’s ‘In Focus’ blog, Sarah Roberts from North East Wales Archives joins us to highlight their Women Rediscovered project.
Explore Your Archive was always going to be different in 2020 and once our staff at North East Wales Archives realised that there would be no “usual” events to plan we started to think about what else we could do whilst working from home with limited access to the collections.
In Wales, archive services have access to Archives Wales marketing support grants which are funded by Welsh Government. Every year, in time for Explore we have the opportunity to apply for a grant to help us to deliver events and projects linked to the national campaign. In September last year we decided to apply for money to cover the costs of a creative project to take stories from our collections to people at home by dramatising accounts of real people from our collections.
We couldn’t deliver this project alone so we set up a meeting with a creative engagement associate at a local regional arts centre and producing theatre, Theatr Clwyd, to discuss a possible partnership. During the initial discussions, it was decided that monologue style films would be the most suitable format, not least because the style of filming really lends itself to social distancing. Theatr Clwyd were excited about the project and the writer, Emyr John, was enthusiastic to get started.
We chose the stories by first looking at the type of collections we wanted to highlight and it soon became apparent that the stories were leaning more towards a female inspired project. We had chosen the story of a teacher, a mother, a widow and a woman of many talents including being a renowned wrestler, boat-maker, hunter and shooter! And so it was born, Women Rediscovered, a project covering stories of strong and inspirational women spanning three centuries with sub-themes such as mental illness and LGBT+.
Luckily, our grant application was accepted to cover all of our chosen stories and we went on to commission the theatre to write the scripts and deliver our project, which they did. The director, Eleri B. Jones, said working with the archives made her feel like “a kid in a sweet shop” and “A lot of history is recorded by men and also by the upper classes who had the time and the ability to write their stories down, I feel there is a huge gap in working class everyday people who were just as extraordinary in their own way.”
The films and the collections and stories they are based upon can be seen on our blog posts, as follows;
A headmistress who devoted herself to education;
A widow of miner killed in the Gresford colliery disaster;
A mother reflecting on postnatal psychosis;
The famous Marged ferch Ifan, “an extraordinary female who was the greatest hunter, shooter, and fisher, of her time” as written about by Thomas Pennant.
The filming took place during Explore Your Archive week and the films were launched weekly throughout January 2021 as part of a #MonologueMonday series. So far, we have had great feedback and comments on the films;
“Phenomenal acting … Absolutely loved the raw, gritty performance”
“Wow this is powerful and thought provoking, really took me out of my comfort zone!! Lowri [the actress] is amazing and gives a real insight to the whole story and history of North Wales Hospital which is difficult to watch (I had to have a break) because it’s real”
“Delivered like this means we can learn from the past and hopefully treat people especially women better in the future! Hopefully this work can also go into our schools in some format to learn and debate our history!”
“I have just watched your You Tube film on Gwyneth / Ann, based on the admission of Ann Owen to the lunatic asylum in 1875. What a fantastic piece of theatre – bringing to life, so well, the story of Ann Owen. Fantastic work, and very inspiring in so many ways, not least in terms of giving a voice to this person from 1875. Loved it!”
We are hoping the project will mark the start of a great working relationship with our local theatre and we will go on to work on more projects with them in the future. For me, personally, it has been exciting to work on something so different and creative, especially when our normal working life has been so disrupted over the last 12 months.
Sarah Roberts, North East Wales Archives
All images copyright of Dafydd Owen @Ffotonant, freelance photographer and filmmaker working on the Women Rediscovered project.