Research into the Shakespeare Hut and Hall's Croft reveal vital elements in the history of women's theatre
The Shakespeare Hut had a vital place in the history of women’s theatre, as Ailsa Grant Ferguson showed when she uncovered the missing history of key members of the Actresses’ Franchise League during the war. These actresses performed on what served, at that moment, as the stage of the nascent National Theatre. By establishing a new role for women and suffrage in Shakespearean theatre history, Ailsa Grant Ferguson’s research opened up new avenues of creative enquiry into the role of women in Shakespeare’s history, contributing to a contemporary international challenge of addressing gender bias in the history of theatre.
Ailsa Grant Ferguson continued research into women's roles in Shakespearean theatre and culture by leading a major programme of work in close collaboration with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, focusing on the heritage site Hall’s Croft, a seventeenth-century house in Stratford-upon-Avon, and one of its original occupants, Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna Hall.
Susanna, along with her husband, John, were not only chosen as executors of her legendary playwright father's will, but were also left the bulk of his estate. It is also believed that Shakespeare left his papers to Susanna, making it highly likely she was closely involved in the compilation of the First Folio of plays published in 1623.
Susanna Hall and Hall's Croft: Gender, Cultural Memory, Heritage (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation) uses Susanna's life story as a lens through which to explore how fiction, cultural history and the heritage industry has presented Susanna and other women from Elizabethan and Jacobean times. The project develops new approaches to mediating women in relation to Shakespeare and stems directly from Ailsa Grant Ferguson’s approach to revealing the multiplicity of heritage by working with diverse organisations. Her work has also spurred the development of several new creative pieces using collaboration and consultation, including that with actress, director and academic, Dr Naomi Paxton and the production company Scary Little Girls on an immersive theatre production.