Keeping a Live Art Timeless

Now that Undermain’s wrapped up it’s 28th season (almost, we still have our reading of Joyce’s Ulysses at the Dallas Museum of Art on June 16th!) it’s time to turn our attentions to the pile of pressing needs that have been bumped to the bottom of our to-do lists while working on the shows.  They say the NFL season never stops these days, and it’s pretty much the same for theatres.

 First and foremost there’s a whole mess of clean-up that needs to be done.  The set of The Birthday Party needs to be struck, office supplies that have been swept out of site in the rush to produce three shows must be put in their proper place, and programs and posters must be archived.  Undermain Theatre maintains an archive of our theatrical history at the Dallas Public Library.  Dallas has a short, but hugely important theatrical history.  In fact, Dallas is the birthplace of the regional theatre movement;  Margo Jones founded her Theatre ’47 company in 1947 in Fair Park.  The country’s first professional theatre outside of New York City began right down the street from Undermain, a quick jaunt down Exposition St. away.

Artistic Director Katherine Owens believes strongly in the importance of keeping an archive of this history of Dallas theatre.  As Zeami, the Noh drama practitioner and theorist, notes in his description of the concepts Jo-ha-kyu, drama is a particularly time-conscious art form.  Accordingly, the live nature of drama is essential to its essence.  This has led to a dearth of record keeping on the production of drama.  One spends months rehearsing a script, building a set, performing a play, and then the run is over and the work of art is ended.  There is often no physical record of the production remaining.

Undermain Theatre is dedicated to maintaining an archival record of our productions.  For each production we take reels (or megapixels these days) of pictures, we save all of our set models and costume sketches, posters and programs.  Even the Stage Manager’s rehearsal reports and the director’s notes go into our archive.  We tape each show several times and store them on archival DVD’s.  We’re even going back into our history to the old hi-8’s and VCR tapes and converting them to digital (a long and arduous process).

Of course saving all of this data is not only good for the sake of having a history, it invaluable to the production of new shows to this day.  In our development of how to incorporate the projections of Time in Kafka, I went back and watched some of the tapes of the Caryl Churchill play Mad Forest from 1994 which was full of some innovative ways to involve projections into the staging.  Just the other day we were thinking of alchemical references in a new script and were able to pull out all of the alchemical research that was done for Pericles, 12 years ago, both in the designer’s research and the director’s notes.

As a theatre that specializes in new and experimental work, it is continually important to be reminded of what has been done before, so that the productions of this day are fully able to be in dialogue with the productions of the past.  Only then can a theatre create something truly new.

-Dylan Key, Associate Director