Fonds - John Orrell fonds

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John Orrell fonds

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  • 1950-2002 (Creation)

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Physical description

5 microfilms, 2 audio-tapes, 121 architectural plans, 2658 transparencies, 80 photographs, 571 negatives, and 5.40 m of textual records

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Biographical history

John Orrell was born on December 31, 1934 at Maidstone, Kent and attended local schools before joining the Royal Air Force, training as a pilot at Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. He graduated in English from University College, Oxford, returning to Canada to teach English at the University of Toronto, where he completed a M.A. in 1959, and his Ph.D. in 1964; his thesis titled: The Repeated Scene: A Study of Formal Parallelism in Elizabethan Tragedy” He then accepted a position teaching English at the University of Alberta, while also writing plays, screenplays, radio and television documentaries, poems, short stories, and focusing his research on theatre history and architecture. Dr. Orrell was an authority on Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre design, and taught many courses on Shakespeare. He also wrote a book describing Edmonton play and opera houses, and researched a book on Western Canadian words and expressions. In 1989, Professor Orrell was chosen as a recipient of the J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research, and he was named University Professor in 1990. Professor Orrell took a sabbatical year at Cambridge University in 1974, where he met Sam Wanamaker, an American film director who was staging plays in a tent at the Globe Theatre site. Wanamaker, the prime motivator behind wanting an exact Globe Theatre replica rebuilt, invited Orrell in 1979 to be the principal historical advisor and architectural consultant for the Globe Theatre project and to put together a blueprint planning for the theatre’s eventual reconstruction. Orrell’s research for planning the Globe Theatre reconstruction involved using new techniques to calculate the approximate size and seating arrangements of the original. There were no existing plans for the original Globe Theatre structures. The theatre first opened in 1599 at Bankside, London, and was the site of the first performances of some of Shakespeare’s greatest works, but burned down in 1613. A replica theatre was immediately rebuilt, to be torn down by the Puritans in 1644. Orrell’s break-through research involved using a famous 17th century etching. “The Long View of London” by artist Wenceslaus Hollar, and overlaying it on a modern map showing which 17th century buildings survived. He then applied trigonometric analyses of building proportions to determine the size of the original Globe Theatre structure. As writer David Martin explains: Dr. Orrell added a disappointingly small amount of archaeological evidence, Shakespeare’s own stage directions, a building contract for a similar theater, the writings of Italian theater architects and several other contemporaneous images, and came up with a description for the size and nature of the theater. (The New York Times, 28 Sep 2003) Professor Orrell joined other principal advisors, Richard Hosley, Andrew Gurr and Glynne Wickham, to advise the Globe Project architect, Theo Crosby. His research was published in 1983 as the Quest for Shakespeare’s Globe, followed by a subsequent publication, Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe, written with Andrew Gurr. The original foundation for the Globe was discovered in 1989, reconstruction began in 1992, and in 1997 the Globe Theatre reopened. Through all stages of the planning and eventual building of the theatre, John Orrell played an integral part; his contributions, in the words of co-scholar Andrew Gurr, “he’s [Orrell] really one of the pillars, one of the reasons the Globe is here.” John Orrell died on September 16th, 2003, and is survived by his wife Wendy, and two children, Katherine and David.

Custodial history

The records remained in the Edmonton home and University of Alberta office during the entire extent of their existence.

Scope and content

Fonds consist of records detailing the academic career of John Overton Orrell, with the bulk of the records concentrating on his academic research related to the Globe Theatre rebuilding project. Dr. Orrell became involved with the project in 1979, and was an active member with the Globe Rebuilding Committee through years of research, site digs, theory constructions, and the eventual rebuilding and opening of the replica Globe Theatre on the banks of the Thames River in London, England. His Globe project files are very detailed, and include annual project files, meeting minutes, correspondence with the Globe architect, Theo Crosby, and other members of the Globe ‘team’, as well as detailed architectural plans, drawings, and photographs. There are also files concerning the function of the theatre once built, including opening festivities, publicity, fund-raising, and theatre season brochures.

The Orrell fonds span his academic career, including early doctoral research files which evolved into early teaching files, with detailed notes on readings, cited references, and copies of various articles, imprint, and scholarly papers related to his fields of research interest. There is a blending between what might have been research files, and what became teaching files, but the end result if a fonds that represents his many professional activities, research interests and directions. There are University of Alberta administrative files, reflecting Orrell’s position as a long-serving faculty member and the accompanying duties this entailed. Dr. Orrell’s professional activities are also reflected in files concerning conferences and seminars attended, speeches given, and correspondence maintained with fellow academics and colleagues.

One series is devoted to his script writing activities, which includes a number of files related to a study of British television programs and scripts, undertaken during an early sabbatical year abroad. Dr. Orrell was the author of several scripts written for Canadian radio and television productions, and copies of the annotated scripts are included in this series of records.

A fairly extensive series relates to John Orrell’s research, writing and publishing activities, and again there is a blurring of lines as much of his research and writing activity is tied closely to his work with the Globe Theatre project. This series is organized into several sub-series to better facilitate access to its many components.

Only a few files concern Professor Orrell’s personal life, and these are described in a small series. A final series describes the extensive photograph holdings, although a more detailed description to the photographs will be prepared at a later date.

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  • English

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PDF scanned from paper finding aid.

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Created by RFROGNER 4-12-2010. Updated by RFROGNER 4-14-2010.
Updated by M. Fraser 17 March 2020.

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