My name is Sydney Dvorak and in the fall semester, I had the privilege of completing my history practicum in Trinity Western University’s Archives and Special Collections. My primary project was digitizing and describing all of the Department of Theatre’s existing production posters. This collection includes 122 posters spanning from 1973 to 2021. Clearly, Trinity has a rich history of theatre. In light of the institution’s recent decision to close the Department of Theatre, I proceeded with this digitization project seeking to honour the legacy of a program that has entertained and challenged our community for over forty years.
This project began with me spending time, lots of time, with the material. When I got to the archives, posters, programs, promotional postcards, audition sign-ups, and other random theatre-related material that once adorned the halls of the university were all mixed together. The first few weeks consisted of me circling the viewing table, taking it all apart and sorting out what was what. While my project was centred around the production posters, I actually started my project by setting the posters aside. Instead, I sorted the theatre production programs chronologically by decade. This did take some detective work. Not all of the programs had dates, so I went searching through old yearbooks and Mars’ Hill publications to find them. I had some luck, but six programs had to be placed in the “Production Programs [n.d.]” file. In the end, I removed staples from 115 programs and added them to folders based on decades.
As it is with any practicum, this was a learning experience. At the outset of this project, I had to learn the Rules of Archival Description (RAD). This is the standard for describing records to which Canadian archives adhere. Archivists use RAD to define records, their context, content, physical characteristics, and relationship to the rest of the archive. To most this may sound like a boring process, but I have discovered I am one of those nerds that enjoys records management. Learning RAD allowed me to move on to the next step in the process, which was entering the production programs and materials into the archival database. Some of my favourites in the series include: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown , Fiddler on the Roof , Hippolytus , Pride and Prejudice , and The Knowing [n.d.]. Check out the Production Program series here.
Once the programs were organised, I could move on to the posters. Much like I did with the programs, I sorted all the posters chronologically by decade. This involved a lot of pile-making and sticky notes to keep things organised. Once I got the hang of it, this part went pretty quick. Data entry took up the bulk of my time in the archives. I spent a lot of time in front of a massive spreadsheet, filling the necessary fields for RAD and describing each poster. By spending time with each poster and describing the physical condition as well as the design, I really got to know the collection. For example, I know that the first poster we have in the series is for a production of The Song of David, that at some point someone has written “drama” in the top right corner with a blue pen, and that there is an image from a twelfth century Bible redrawn by Gerald Baron in the middle of the poster.
The first issue I encountered was that of preserving and presenting potentially offensive material. In 2009, one of the productions performed was Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan. In light of the fact that this play contains offensive stereotypes, and that many universities have cancelled their productions of The Good Woman in recent years due to concerns about racism, I had to decide how best to proceed. The poster could not be shoved into a corner and forgotten about; doing that would mean being a poor steward of history. In order to avoid censorship the poster has to be added to the record. It was ultimately decided that the poster would be archived with a disclaimer, which would hopefully mitigate any further harm stemming from the material. Ultimately, I chose to add a general note to the description explaining “This performance of ‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’ included a predominantly white cast portraying Chinese characters. This play is known to include harmful stereotyping and racist connotations in ways that are no longer acceptable.”
After my descriptions had been entered and merged into the archives database and I began the process of digitising each poster. We used an Epson Expression 11000XL to scan the posters. The time it took to scan each poster depended on how large the poster was, and if it was black and white. Scanning took between five and twenty-three minutes per poster. The main challenges I faced during this project involved technology, the first barrier to pop up was to do with the scanning. The size of the scanning bed we have in the archives was too small to accommodate some of the posters. A total of twenty-one posters could not be scanned because the scanning bed was too small. Because of this, their images could not be uploaded to the database. Instead, I attached a general note to the description saying, “Due to the sizes of the scanning bed and the poster, this item could not be scanned.”
To view our complete collection of theatre production posters, click here.
On my final shift in the archives, I was reminded of why this project is especially important. I was given the poster and program for the most recent theatre production, Awake. This show was designed to honour the Department of Theatre and the ways in which it has shaped the lives of alumni and current students. With the closure of TWU’s theatre program, this digitization project preserves its history.
Beyond this practicum being an invaluable professional and academic experience for me, it was also a project imbued with the emotions of finality. By individually organizing, describing, and scanning each poster I was taken on a tour of TWU’s history. As Trinity grew and changed through the decades, the theatre productions reflected or pushed back on these changes. I hope through my project I have provided a home for the history of TWU’s theatre department, and a digital space to relive and remember for those whose lives have been impacted by the theatre closure. I also hope that the material I have gotten to know so well over the last few months can be used well by the community and potential researchers.