Friday, 17 June 2016

'Reading the Digital Theatre Archive'

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a symposium held by Central Scool of Speech and Drama focusing on the Abbey Theatre's digitisation project led by NUI Galway.  Patrick Lonergan, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies, gave the lecture Reading the Digital Theatre Archive: New Approaches to the Abbey Theatre 1904-2014 and took us through what has been digitised and what research can now be done using these collections.  It has taken three years to get to the completion of the digitisation and only now are the team beginning to look at research possibilities, and there are many.

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):

This model shows the context required when studying a production and this network is the sort of thing that I try to get across in Archive inductions, particularly with people who aren't used to using archives and are unaware of the relevance to studies.  Looking at part of a production such as the recording, is only a small part of a much larger picture surrounding the staging of the play.

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.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Reflecting on Registration

I am in the middle of bringing all of my registration credits together and polishing them off with the aim of submitting my portfolio in October.  I have been working on my portfolio for a year and a half with work that stretches back to the start of 2013 when I became Archive Manager at the NT.

I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on the process of reflecting that is registration.  Firstly, I know that there is a new registration system being implemented already and I don't intend to write about what is wrong with the old one, I want to write about how I've found it going through the stages of the registration process.

There have been various stages to it and I'll list them out:

1. Finding a mentor
This was harder than I expected as I wanted to meet someone in my area, who had had experience of the sector I am in and who was willing to give up the time to read through my portfolio.  Thankfully I found Penny, who has been a brilliant sounding board for my credits and never shies away from telling me if what I've written isn't quite right.

2. Writing about yourself
I have really, really struggled to make my credits about me and not about my job or my institution. It is tough to write about why you undertook some training for professional development and not just say that work wanted you to go. It has been a learning curve to identify my personal motivation behind many of my credits and it has helped me to identify areas of my job that I prefer to others.

3. Identify learning outcomes
Sometimes it can be hard to appreciate what outcomes a project has had.  We don't often get the time in our professional lives to take a step back and really look at what went well and what didn't and what we have personally learned from it.  My outcomes have varied greatly from building my network of peers and clarity of vision for my career to appreciating the learning styles of my staff and being a better listener.

4. Balance your outcomes
As I near the end of writing my credits, I have now written up 13 credits and I require 12, I wanted to ensure that I had a balanced portfolio with a range of learning outcomes.  I didn't want too narrow a portfolio as that does not show breadth of learning but I also didn't want too broad a portfolio as then my credits may not interconnect or reference each other in a way that builds a stronger portfolio.  I think that I have quite a good spread and I'll use my outcomes plot to decide which credit to ditch.

5. Finding evidence
Today I have been spending a lot of time trawling through old email folders trying to locate pieces of evidence to support each credit.  I have managed to find 3 pieces of evidence for each credit, which should stand me in good stead but it has been really difficult to think of hard evidence of the work I do - I know I've achieved things but 'evidence' has to be one A4 page and that is sometimes hard to come by.  The guidance suggests that you include the agenda or delegate list from events or articles or speeches that you have written.  Emails showing discussions on topics relevant to the credit are also useful and I have included some blog posts and webpages.  I hope I am on the right track with this...

This post makes it look a bit like there are 5 easy steps to writing your portfolio but it is quite a time-consuming process.  I do feel like it has been a positive one though, which made me think about my progress far more in personal terms than institutional.  I now appreciate that my development is important not just to myself but to my work as well and I am keen to see what the ARA have up their sleeve for continuing professional development beyond registration.  I will be glad when I have completed registration so that I can move on to accreditation for my archive service, but I have enjoyed the challenge of reflecting intensely on my personal development however uncomfortable I have found it.