Amateur Theatrics in the Royal Navy
Heritage, drama and the Royal Navy Theatre Association
For hundreds of years, amateur theatre and performance rituals have been present has been an important part of the history and culture in the Royal Navy, championed by the Royal Navy Theatre Association (RNTA). Professor Nadine Holdsworth’s AHRC-funded project explored the role and importance of amateur theatre in the Royal Navy. Her research uncovered the myriad benefits that the RNTA brings to its members, to the Royal Navy and to members of the public and helped to secure the future of the association.
The role and impact of the RNTA had not been examined before Holdsworth’s research. Members of the Royal Navy have produced theatre on their own at sea or on-land with the wider community for years, but at a time of limited budgets the Royal Navy needed to justify its use of resources and the financial support for theatre activity. The RNTA also found that its numbers were declining, partly due to a lack of awareness among serving personnel.
Working with the RNTA, and with support from the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence, Professor Holdsworth sought to answer a number of key questions:
How does the RNTA benefit the Royal Navy?
What role does theatre play in the culture of the Royal Navy today?
What do individual participants gain (personally and professionally) from their involvement?
Researchers interviewed both current and former sailors and civilian participants, examining the impact of being involved with the RNTA for increasing confidence and building relationships and camaraderie. Professor Holdsworth unearthed and interpreted scripts, programmes and production photographs, highlighting the long history of the RNTA.
Professor Holdsworth has shown how naval theatre helps keep traditions alive and benefits its members. The interviewees shared how being part of the RNTA improved team working under pressure and greater personal well-being for naval officers and helped build relationships with the local community.
Professor Holdsworth and her team have worked with Royal Museums Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum to provide some background to their collections and to re-evaluate neglected materials. Significantly, Professor Holdsworth’s research has provided naval theatre groups with the justification they need to continue with productions and has increased the profile of the RNTA in the Royal Navy.