The APGRD Database of Modern Performances of Ancient Drama at the University of Oxford

by Amanda Wrigley
Archive of Perfomances of Greek and Roman Drama,
University of Oxford, UK.

The Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (APGRD) was founded in 1996 by Edith Hall and Oliver Taplin in response to the need for a coordinated research effort devoted to the international production and reception of ancient Greek and Roman plays from the Renaissance to the present day. Funded initially by the Leverhulme Trust (1996-1999) and subsequently (1999-2004) by a Research Project grant from the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), the project has for some years been working to establish the international history of ancient plays in modern performance, primarily on the stage, but also on film, television and radio, and in opera and dance. From October 2004 the APGRD has been engaged in a new, five-year AHRB (now AHRC) research project which grows organically from these foundations, developing theoretical models for the scholarly practice of performance reception, collecting all the information that can be discovered about identifiable performances in antiquity, and turning to further kinds of performance and interpretation in the modern period, in particular studying opera and dance more systematically than we have so far been able to do.


The central purpose of the APGRD is research, and the publication of several books (see below) has arisen from a full programme of lectures and conferences. A further major research output will be the publication of the APGRD Database of Modern Performances of Ancient Drama. The APGRD also serves as a repository of physical materials relating to the stage history of the ancient plays in performance, such as posters, flyers, theatre programmes, tickets, newspaper reviews, designs, photographs and audio-visual recordings. The basis of this collection is the personal archives of the APGRD's founding Directors, Edith Hall and Oliver Taplin, who together with colleagues Peter Brown (Director), Fiona Macintosh (Senior Research Fellow), Pantelis Michelakis (Honorary Research Fellow), Amanda Wrigley (Researcher), and Christopher Weaver (Administrative Assistant) continue to work tirelessly to source new materials from archives, libraries, and theatre companies. In addition, we have recently benefited from the expertise of Dr Vasiliki Giannopoulou who has been working on the post-Renaissance reception of Aristophanes.


An international conference is held every three years, on Medea and Agamemnon in performance in 1998 and 2001 respectively, and on the performance reception of Aristophanes' Peace, Birds and Frogs in September 2004. In addition, a regular public lecture series has brought a rich variety of performing arts practitioners, translators, and academics from many disciplines to Oxford to share their knowledge and experiences (the complete list of speakers is available online). A colloquium on 'Iphigenia in the Arts' took place at the University of Bristol in May 2004 under the auspices of the APGRD and Bristol's Centre of the Classical Tradition. Moreover, for the past four years the APGRD has joined with the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London to organise an annual two-day Postgraduate Symposium on the modern performance of Greek drama.It has also supported 'Dionysus Recast', a postgraduate seminar series held each summer term from 2003 to 2005 at the University of Oxford. In addition, the APGRD has benefited from close collaboration with the Open University's research project on The Reception of the Texts and Images of Ancient Greece in Late Twentieth-century Drama and Poetry in English (see Hardwick in this issue) and the wide membership of the European Network of Research & Documentation of Ancient Greek Drama Performances (see Mavromoustakos and Ionniades).


These activities have led to the publication of two collective volumes: a diachronic survey of a single tragedy, Medea in Performance, 1500-2000 (Oxford: Legenda, 2000), and a synchronic study of the revival of the Greek tragic repertoire in the later twentieth century, Dionysus Since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (OUP, 2004). Two further volumes are now in press: Agamemnon in Performance, 458 BC-2004 AD (OUP, November 2005) breaks new ground by tracing this play's performance reception from antiquity to the present; and Edith Hall and Fiona Macintosh's book, Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre, 1660-1914 (OUP, July 2005), investigates the reception of ancient tragedy in one country. The volumes on Medea and Agamemnon arise out of the proceedings of our conferences on these plays; Dionysus Since 69 arises out of our twice-termly lecture series, with the addition of chapters by all members of the research project; and Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre is the sole work of Edith Hall and Fiona Macintosh. The proceedings of our conference on 'Aristophanes Upstairs and Downstairs: Peace, Birds, and Frogs in Ancient and Modern Performance' will appear in book format. For further published research by APGRD people, see the online bibliographies.

APGRD Database

Each of these four (published or in press) books includes a substantial production chronology of some kind which is in effect a snapshot of a section of the APGRD Database. This electronic research resource makes available online data on over 8,000 works of modern performance which draw on ancient Greek and Roman drama, and bibliographical references to enable the researcher to consult a range of evidence on each production. Even in its developmental stage, this electronic resource has proved to be an invaluable research tool for an international body of scholars in a wide range of disciplines and specializations, from those investigating the performance history of a particular play, for example, to those seeking to map the cultural history of a particular country in a specific decade.

(i) Production details

The performing arts can be complicated: since much of the data used to identify and describe works of performance in the database can exist in multiple values, it is of the utmost importance that all the data can be recorded in a searchable way. If a production of Medea, drawing on the ancient plays of that name by both Euripides and Seneca, in a modern adaptation created by using two early 20th-century translations, is performed with English dialogue and modern Greek songs, as a collaborative effort between two theatre companies, under two directors, and touring internationally to numerous venues and festivals over a period of three years, then there must be a facility for locating this record in the database using any combination of these values. The database has therefore been designed with a sophisticated query facility enabling the researcher to access records from a wide selection of 'entry points': for example, chronological (year ranges), geographical (country, location, and venue), by person (translators, directors, actors, designers), theatre company, language of performance, type of performance (e.g. stage, dance, musical, puppetry), the modern texts used to form the playscript, and, of course, by the ancient play(s) on which the modern work of performance draws.

(ii) Bibliographical references

In addition to the presentation of these hard facts, a vital function of the database is to point the researcher in the direction of bibliographical sources which will offer further information on productions: for example, reviews, articles and listings in the press; academic books and journal articles; histories of theatre companies and venues; published playtexts; books by or about theatre practitioners; and standard reference works.

Links to other websites are also provided as a further type of published 'evidence' for productions. Although websites are a rich source of information, their ephemerality has serious implications for the currency of the references which are provided by the database. The database is, at this stage of publication, a purely textual resource, and does not include any image, video or sound files, due to the financial resources that would be required to develop the database to hold such files with regard to current best practice, and to digitize the entirety of the APGRD's archival resources for over eight thousand works of performance. Rather, the database aims, by providing bibliographical references, to act as an effective jumping-off point from which the international research community can continue its investigations at local research libraries.

The 'production details' about works of performance contained in bibliographical sources have been transferred to the database, but the contextual information surrounding these facts cannot efficiently be held by a database. So, although the database has been designed to hold a complex level of data – such as that in the 1977 New York Shakespeare Festival production of Agamemnon directed by Andrei Serban, Priscilla Smith took the roles of both Clytemnestra and Cassandra at the Vivian Beaumont, but that when the production transferred to the Delacorte these roles were played by two actors, Gloria Foster and Dianne Wiest – it cannot easily explain why this change of cast was made.

The bibliographical references will also provide the researcher with the tools to verify, and perhaps sometimes disagree with, the information provided by the database. Often subjective decisions have to be made relating to the interpretation and prioritization of the variety of evidence available on a production: for example, a production may be advertised as a 'version' of an ancient play, but after seeing the play in performance or looking carefully at the playscript it may be thought more appropriate within the reference terms of the database to describe the production as a translation of that ancient play. Often, the sources of evidence for the ephemeral activities of the stage can contradict each other, and it is therefore incumbent on the researcher to make an independent assessment of the bibliographical (and other) sources listed for a production. The database is therefore only the starting point for independent, interpretative research.

Advantages of electronic publication

The overwhelming advantage of electronic over hard-copy publication for such a reference work is that newly-discovered productions can be added at any point, and the data on productions already recorded in the database can be continually revised and expanded as new sources come to light. The process of data collection on a production can be haphazard and incremental: after stumbling across a passing reference to a production of an ancient drama in the biography of an actor, for example, some time may pass before an email to the theatre company involved yields a theatre programme for our collection and therefore new information for our database. And so the information held by the database expands incrementally not only in terms of new productions but also in terms of the depth of data held on known productions.

A further advantage of electronic publication for several thousand records is that the data can be accessed through a variety of different entry points: for example, a combination of geographical and chronological search terms can provide an interesting report of what was happening in a particular place at a particular time; a search for all known productions of Aeschylus' Agamemnon will return a list of over 700 productions across the globe; and a search for Steven Berkoff will bring up a list of those productions in which he was involved either as an actor or a director, as well as all those productions which have used his adaptations of Agamemnon and Oedipus Tyrannus. The database has been designed with a feedback form in the hope that researchers using the resource will inform the APGRD when they discover errors in the data or have supplementary material – in terms of both productions and sources – to contribute.

Solutions to the problem of documenting the performing arts

The ephemeral nature of the theatrical event means that it is publicly documented for only a short length of time. Evidence may be preserved in the form of a newspaper review, magazine article or theatre programme, but for many productions once the theatrical event is over information about it disappears from immediate sight. Theatre companies who can afford to maintain a substantial web presence are increasingly sensing the importance of archiving web pages on past productions. Documentation in the performing arts can be patchy and disorganised, and the printed record of a performance can be unreliable even in specialist journals and magazines. Secondary sources such as newspaper reviews can mis-spell actors' names and report the dates of the run incorrectly, and even advance publicity from a theatre company might advertize a tour that in fact never happened. Relying on such secondary printed sources for data collection on a performance event is therefore problematic, but it remains one of the most fundamental methods of data collection for the database.

The approach taken during data entry is one of rigorous cross-checking of data whilst keeping in mind the relative merits of different types of source. A piece of documentation from a theatre company (figs 1, 2 & 3)

fig 1 fig 2 fig 3

is generally taken to be a more reliable source of production details than a newspaper review (fig. 4);

Fig. 4

however, a sudden change of cast during the run of a production, for example, will not always be reflected in the programme. A reference to a production in an academic article might mis-remember the première of the initial run, but it might contain valuable information on a revival and tour three years later. And so, the information on the database will only reflect those sources which have come to the attention of the APGRD team at that point in time. Every attempt has been made to examine and cross-check data in order that it reaches the research community at an appropriately scholarly standard, but it is the hope of the research project that users of this resource will treat it as a springboard to propel them into a deeper investigation of the history of a particular production.

How it works in practice

The database has been designed in the style of a standard academic library catalogue so that researchers can 'drill down' into the data, following leads of interest as they arise. A search for all productions of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis performed internationally in the last decade (fig 5) returns an overview list of 47 records (fig. 6 ).

Fig. 5 Fig. 6

Following the link to the most recent British production brings up the detailed record for that directed by Katie Mitchell at the Royal National Theatre in 2004 (fig. 7). From this detailed record the researcher could, for example, click on the theatre company's name to return a list of all productions of ancient drama staged by the (Royal) National Theatre (fig. 8), or click on the name Katie Mitchell to see the other productions on which she has worked (fig. 9)

Fig. 7 Fig.8 Fig. 9

Future datasets

In addition to the conferences, lectures, and books which will emerge from the new project from October 2004, its research will also generate three substantial datasets for electronic publication. These datasets will make use of some of the fundamental tables and relationships drawn in the current APGRD database. Building on existing foundations in this way will enable the researcher to search the three new datasets either independently from, or in tandem with, the APGRD database.The new datasets will be as follows:

1. Records for the performance of drama in antiquity from c.500 BC to c.500 AD, and documentation of the evidence for their performance. The performance of drama in antiquity will—in addition to tragedy, comedy, and satyr play—include pantomime, parodic mime, tragoedic recital and citharoedic recital on theatrical themes. Documentation for their performance will refer to source materials such as papyrus, vase-painting, inscription, scholion and treatise. Our new AHRB-funded doctoral researcher, Rosie Wyles at the University of Durham, is investigating the performance reception in antiquity of Euripides under the supervision of Edith Hall, and the findings of this research will be of great importance for the design of the new electronic resource.

2. An index of c.1,500 operas composed from the early modern period to the present which draw on ancient drama, and several thousand records detailing performances of them.

3. A similar index of c.1,000 ballets choreographed from the early modern period to the present which draw on ancient drama, and records detailing performances of them.


The APGRD Database of Modern Performances of Ancient Drama has been designed to provide the research community with an efficient tool with which to access a rich and complex set of data on the performance of ancient drama on stage, film, television and radio. It is intended that the potential value of this resource will be realized with the emergence of further interdisciplinary works which endeavour to investigate, contextualize and interpret the data, thus proving it to be an indispensable instrument for those working in the field of reception studies.

Amanda Wrigley
Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama

Amanda Wrigley is Researcher at the APGRD at the University of Oxford. She is a Classics graduate, a qualified librarian, and specializes in archival investigation of theatre history. She is co-editor with Edith Hall and Fiona Macintosh of Dionysus Since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (OUP, 2004). Her forthcoming publications include a study of Aeschylus' Agamemnon on BBC Radio, 1946-1976. She is currently working on a publication documenting the history of Greek plays at Oxford and by the Balliol Players.