Claire Frampton: ‘Drama as a Learning Tool in Heritage’

The following post is by Claire Frampton following ‘Tea with the Sphinx’ 2017.


I work at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as a Visitor Services Assistant and am undertaking a professional research portfolio. Exploring the potential to develop creative drama as an educational tool in museums and heritage, this is part of studying for the professional certificate Associateship of the Museums Association. Through my experience as a gallery attendant I identified a gap in the market for theatre in the museum education programme.

At ‘Tea With the Sphinx’ 2017 I presented a discussion of projects I have witnessed relating to ancient Egypt in museums and ideas for the future. This was a great opportunity to focus on one area of theatre in museums at a themed event. Below I describe some aspects of my presentation.

In 2011 the Ashmolean reopened its Egypt and Nubia Galleries after redevelopment of display of the world famous collections; and in 2014 there was an exhibition ‘Discovering Tutankhamun‘ about the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt, containing Howard Carter’s original records, drawings and photographs, and some artefacts showing the influence of Egyptomania including fashion items. At ‘Tea With the Sphinx’ I spoke about dramatic presentations produced in relation to these displays and a presentation at the British Museum I witnessed.

As part of their ‘Put on a Play in a Week’ summer holiday offer, Creation Theatre produced a presentation of scenes of the Shakespeare play Antony and Cleopatra in the Cast Gallery at the Ashmolean August 2016. This was following on from the success of the production drawing inspiration from The Labours of Hercules produced Summer 2015 which I designed as an MA assignment. The emphasis was on learning through drama and learning with objects in a museum setting. Creation state that:

“Working in the Ashmolean is great for our workshop kids, as it provides a hands-on opportunity for them understand the historical context of the text they perform. By performing in a museum, the students can further understand the interplay between theatre and history – using drama as a form of storytelling. It also helps to boost their confidence, by performing in an public space.”

Maddy Breen, Education Manager, Creation Theatre Company 2016

In 2016 I was present at Millions of Years based on Phillip Glass’ Akhnaten at the British Museum. This was a site specific music theatre piece performed by a mixed-age community ensemble. The performance responded to the English National Opera’s production of Glass’s Akhenaten at the Coliseum in London as well as the collections at the British Museum, and involved professional artists from English National Opera.

The performance Millions of Years at the BM ‘explored the passage of time from ancient past  to today  and the future.  It considered what has been left by ancient societies what we value today what we leave behind for future generations’. This project was the culmination of a large scale community project developed by ENO, in collaboration with groups such as Streetwise Opera. They took 4 scenes from the mainstage Opera and added to this an original piece.

An idea for a the future I had was for a performance of Tony Harrison’s play Trackers of Oxyrhynchus in the galleries of the Ashmolean; this would explore relationship of the script to the ancient world collections and would exploit the unique framing of the storyline featuring Oxford papyrologists working in Egypt 1907. Notes on the back of the 1991 edition of the text state that ‘Harrison remakes the fragmentary  text of a Satyr play by Sophocles […] incorporating into the action the two Edwardian papyrologists who discovered the original’. There are  fragments of scrolls and text on display in the Egypt galleries at the Ashmolean, and this is one reason why I feel the script would work well in relation to the collections. The play was first performed in the ancient stadium of Delphi in 1988 in a unique one-off performance. I had first seen the show at the Finborough Theatre in London, the first performance for 30 years, with papyrus style banners as part of the set.

I decided to make use of some pages in my scrapbook exploring creative ideas for a production of the play at the Ashmolean, including one idea to use sand in the galleries inspired by Andy Goldsworthy’s Sandwork in the 1994 exhibition ‘Time Machine‘ at the British Museum. I also included diagrams from a booklet about the new displays at the Ashmolean – ‘Egypt Revealed’ – produced in anticipation of the new galleries.

I hope this has given an interesting idea of projects I have witnessed and ideas for future potential. I thoroughly enjoyed presenting this at an event exploring different aspects of the study of ancient Egypt.