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Student’s exhibition uncovers magic of University theatre

Student’s exhibition uncovers magic of University’s theatre world

University of Auckland students and staff will soon have a priceless catalogue and an on-line exhibition on the work of Professor Sydney Musgrove thanks to the creation of an archive formed from material donated by his family.

Professor Musgrove was head of the English Department from 1947 until his retirement in 1979. In 1963 he launched Summer Shakespeare, a tradition that still takes place at the University every year.

BA Honours student Chelsea Renshaw has spent the past three months immersed in researching and categorising archival documents and material donated to the University by Professor Musgrove’s family.

Chelsea was studying Ian Wedde's Art Writing and Curatorial Practice course in the Department of Art History when she received the Special Collections Internship.

The 22-year-old from Auckland’s Torbay spent from August until November arranging and describing photographs, programmes, costume designs, posters and newspaper cuttings from Professor Musgrove’s activity at the University and the Auckland theatre scene between 1949 until 1982.

“The challenge was so thrilling. It was so lovely that I was making something out of these collections,” Chelsea says.

"As well as carrying out archival work, I also spent time writing labels for the online exhibition which involved using both the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus and The Library of Congress website for correct subject headings. I have so much more appreciation for museum labels now!"

Her work and some of the material is now on exhibition at the University’s General Library and will soon be available as an extensive on-line catalogue for everyone’s future use.

Chelsea particularly enjoyed comparing costume designs with Clifton Firth's theatrical photographs.

The project took some detective work from Chelsea to ensure that the material was correctly dated. If a newspaper clipping of theatre review didn’t have a date on it, Chelsea would resort to reading the news story on the reverse and date the article by cross-referencing it with the current events occurring at the time.

Along the way she learnt about the vibrant theatre scene Professor Musgrove was involved in at the University, and a flourishing amateur dramatics culture despite the rise of movie cinemas.

“It’s fascinating, amateur theatre wasn’t just a movement in Auckland, it went on nationally all over New Zealand.”

She also came across the work of prominent Auckland printer Bob Lowry and the Pilgrim Press that made souvenir programmes for Professor Musgrove’s plays.Chelsea's exhibition will be on display in the library until December 6th and will be followed by an online exhibition that is to be launched on the library's website soon at


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