What does Museum Theatre look like?

Last month the Asia Pacific branch of the International Museum Theatre Alliance (IMTAL) hosted the international conference – Access All Areas.  The conference was held a various institutions in Melbourne and included a day with us here at Sovereign Hill.  It was a fabulous conference, for the two days I attended at any rate.

IMTAL events are always good fun and inspiring as the members are some of the most passionate, engaging and lively museum professionals.  There were some fabulous performances and great discussions.  The conference really highlighted the essential role theatre plays in engaging audiences and interpreting content in a meaningful way.

Performing on stage in the Victoria Theatre
The Mask of Deceit at Sovereign Hill
Patrick finding a baby bookworm at SLV

I spoke at the conference about our Sovereign Hill Education program A Woman’s Work is Never Done and had participants experience the program first hand!  I also presented a Pecha Kucha session on my travel overseas.  My presentation including a wide variety of examples that might be classified as theatre. These included: passionate guides discussing their historical site, historical reenactment, animals, dress-ups for visitors and more!

The last session of the conference was a panel discussion about the future of Museum Theatre and the role of digital technologies.  I was initially surprised by the amount of negativity towards the role technology might play, but as I’m not a full-time performer, I can understand it in hindsight.  However I still believe the technology is not something to be concerned about, but rather something to embrace.  I see technology as a great opportunity for museum theatre – a way to reach bigger audiences, engage more people and integrate of skills in new areas.

I would never seek to diminish the quality and power of a first hand experience of performance, character or recreation.  In fact, those experiences are some of the most memorable I have had in my travels and delivering in my own work.  But I think we can also embrace the technology to spread the power of theatre far and wide.

One of the sticking points of the panel discussion was the definition of museum theatre.  I believe museum theatre can come in many forms and that we, as museum theatre practitioners, do ourselves an injustice by restricting or limiting that definition.   To me, museum theatre can be anything from a performance, to a talk, music, film, a character on a mobile application, a storyteller on an audio tour…

I understand the performers who want to stay on stage or in character and after the performances and characters I saw, I hope they do!  But I also believe there is much potential as a group to embrace a broad definition and new technologies.  I hope we continue to grow and more people realise the power and joy of museum theatre in all its forms.

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