NUIG helps Abbey to put Irish theatre archives on line
By Sinead Farrell
The digital archive partnership between NUI Galway and the Abbey Theatre was unveiled in the Abbey Theatre Dublin on Monday by President Michael D Higgins.
This initiative, entitled ‘A Digital Journey Through Irish Theatre’ was drafted by drama experts from the Abbey Theatre and NUI Galway and is recognised as the largest digital theatre project to date. The compilation process, which began in September, is expected to be completed by 2015.
The Abbey contains more than 1.8 million items, and is one of the world’s most significant archival collections. It contains a plethora of exciting and extraordinary material which provides a fascinating insight into Irish theatre, history, culture, and society. The archival material ranges from show posters, programmes, photographs, and minute books to lighting plans, set and costume designs, sound cues, prompt scripts and audio files.
Celebrating the launch, Fiach MacConghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said: “It’s been a long cherished ambition of the Abbey Theatre to preserve our archive. The digitised archive will help scholars and historians to write the history of the Abbey in greater detail. The Abbey archive is a major resource for Irish theatre and will help us celebrate the unheralded artists, actors, writers who have worked at the Abbey over the years. It will also inspire the next generation of theatre makers.”
Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway said: “As East meets West, and the creative arts and scholarship combine, this project will see NUI Galway bring the most advanced digital technology to bear on one of the country’s most historic theatre archives. This digitisation project is based on an awareness of the importance of the Abbey Theatre for the social, cultural and economic history of this country – not to mention its ongoing significance for Ireland and the international community as one of the key national theatres in the world.
The earliest item in the Abbey archive actually precedes the founding of the theatre. It is an 1894 poster of the first production of The Land of Heart’s Desire by WB Yeats, which was performed at the Avenue Theatre in London. Other archival gems reveal that Éamon De Valera appeared as Dr. Kelly in an amateur production of A Christmas Hamper in 1905. Part of the Abbey archive was damaged as a result of the devastating effects of the fire of 1951 and some archival artefacts are in a fragile condition due to age.
The digitisation project is unique in that it highlights two of the most important features of contemporary Ireland: the richness of its cultural traditions and its capacity for technological innovation. NUI Galway is ideally positioned to capitalise on those strengths, as it brings both international expertise in Irish theatre and digital humanities to the project.