While I was attending the NUI Galway conference Performing the Archive around this time last year I heard the Archivist and her team at the Abbey speak about the archive-side of the project so it was particularly interesting to hear an academic's view on how the collections can now be used. The Abbey Theatre digital archive is available for use at NUI Galway's John Hardiman Library and the university have just announced a second large digitisation project with the Gate Theatre in Dublin. This is really putting NUI Galway on the map for Irish theatre academia.
|NUI Galway campus|
The data that can be extrapolated from these collections is far-reaching but Patrick focused in on gender studies to show how looking at the history of an institution can help inform the present and future. The Abbey is currently marking the anniversary of the Easter Rising with a project called Waking the Nation, which has had backlash from the public concerning the gender imbalance in programming, sparking the Waking the Feminists movement. Patrick used this as a springboard from where he jumped into his data sets to look at the engagement that the Abbey has had historically with female writers, authors and actors. It made for a fascinating hour of graphs, tables and comparisons.
I found one model of research around a production very interesting, I think sourced from Richard Knowles book Reading the Material Theatre (2004):
I was particularly interested in what Patrick had to say about theatre archives being huge data sets showing how theatres have performed over long periods of time. They can reflect their community and can use their status to perform within society and to make statements about their situation. This is particularly pertinent for a national theatre, like the NT. Our National Theatre is 53 years old and it is really interesting to look at what is in the Archive and what we are archiving now to see what story we are preserving and what other voices we should be capturing for those historians of the future.
One thought that I came away with was a bit of a 'keeping up with the Joneses' - an awareness that if research of this sort could be done with the Abbey's collection, which is termed the national theatre of Ireland, then I need to be ready for researchers expecting the same access to our National Theatre's collections. While this information is in our collections, really how accessible is it to researchers and how do they know what sort of work they can conduct in the Archive? It was really good food for thought as I plan and prioritise future projects for my team.