Research Seminar: ENSA – approaches to a reassessment

Research Seminar: ENSA – approaches to a reassessment

School of Culture & Creative Arts | College of Arts & Humanities
Date: Wednesday 06 December 2023
Time: 12:30 - 14:00
Venue: Seminar Room 123a, Gilmorehill Halls, 9 University Avenue, Glasgow, G12 8QQ
Category: Staff workshops and seminars
Speaker: Professor Anselm Heinrich

The Entertainments Services Association (ENSA) was the British war-time organisation which provided entertainment for the armed forces. At the end of the war it had organised tens of thousands of shows, had employed thousands of artists and had entertained hundreds of thousands of people. Yet since then ENSA has been almost forgotten and largely written out of the established histories of the war. If mentioned at all ENSA has been ridiculed and belittled, and criticised for the poor quality of its shows, its belligerent director and the subsidies it received. In this paper I offer an alternative reading of the organisation as one that was in fact revoluationary. That fact that ENSA provided employment when this was hard to come by and paid everyone the same basic salary, that it did away with fancy costumes and design, and produced simple, cheap and versatile sets that could be used again and again in different performance conditions, ran counter to some of the underlying principles of a capitalist theatre industry. In fact the aesthetic of many ENSA shows was reminiscent of continental Avant-Garde Agit-Prop groups or the similarly ground breaking New Deal Federal Theatre Project in the United States rather than glittering West End shows. ENSA also represented an enterprise which attempted to bridge gaps between ‘high’ and ‘low’ entertainment. The Association’s branching out into classical music and serious drama brought together performers, aesthetics and ideologies which would otherwise hardly have mixed. Under Drury Lane’s roof they did. Although this did not happen by design it arguably created – perhaps for the first time ever and since – a truly National Theatre at Dury Lane.
Professor Anselm Heinrich PhD MA BA FRHistS is Professor of Theatre Studies and International Dean in the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Glasgow. His monographs include Theatre in Europe under German Occupation (2017), Theater in der Region (2012), and Entertainment, Education, Propaganda. Regional Theatres in Germany and Britain (2007). He has co-edited a collection of essays on Ruskin, The Theatre, and Victorian Visual Culture (2009), and is under contract for a volume on institutional dramaturgy in 20th century Germany. He is currently working on a book on theatre in Britain during WW2 (for OUP). He has received fellowships at Harvard, Oxford and Marburg, and is co-editor of Theatre Notebook.

Colleagues are warmly invited to join us for our next theatre studies research seminar, and lunchtime mince pies. We would love to see you in person , please sign up for a place on Eventbrite.  For those unable to make it you can join the seminar on zoom.  For the zoom link, which will be sent out that week, or any other queries, please email Liz at

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