Category Archives: Processing

An Archivist’ Farewell

Today is officially my last day for this grant project. I look back at the past year and I just think “wow.” Wow on different levels. Wow, I have worked with some amazing people. Wow, I have learned a lot about outdoor theatre. Wow, how has it been a year already? Wow, this collection is massive.

It sounds cliché, but honestly this collection is like no other in the world that I have found. And I have gone looking to try and see how other places organized the materials. There simply isn’t any comparable collection I have been able to find. Play scripts, correspondence, clippings, publicity materials, financial, photographs, programs, and attendance information for hundreds of different outdoor theatre productions across the United States; many still running currently, many not. Beyond specific productions, there is feasibility studies and publications with “how to’s” for a wide variety of topics within outdoor theatre. What do you have to consider when selecting a site? Where can you find financial support? What are the audiences various demographics? How does a production promote itself? There is a wealth of information within the archives just waiting for someone.

The collection is now open for researchers. The finding aid can be viewed at Items that have been digitized can be viewed through the finding aid as well. One particular aspect of digitized items I am excited about is by the end of January, all of the audio components should be digitized and available online. A big thank you goes to Justin Borer, Joyner Library’s audio digitization specialist, who is working to get these items digitized.

Something else I am really excited about is the exhibit I mentioned in a previous blog post. “The People’s Theatre: The Institute of Outdoor Theatre and North Carolina Productions” will be installed in early January on the 4th floor of Joyner Library, and there will be an opening reception on Friday, January 15th at 4:30 pm.

Poster Final

I do want to say thank you to all of the people who have been involved with this project: my graduate students Jeff and Kate, Susan and Michael from the Institute of Outdoor Theatre, the numerous people at Joyner Library including Dale, Martha, Jennifer, Lynette, Joe, and those I know I have forgotten to mention. Without all of you, this project would not have been as successful as it was. And to the National Historical Publication and Records Commission for the grant, making this project possible.

So what is next for me? Well, I am staying at ECU for a bit longer. I am going to be the project archivist for an LSTA grant to get the finding aids for Laupus Library (our health sciences library) history collections online. This means that I will get to see my exhibit in its final stage and hopefully hear and see people using the Institute of Outdoor Theatre archives.

Less Than a Month to Go

The NHPRC grant project is starting to wind down and is in its last month. I know I have said it many times before, but I cannot believe how fast this project has gone by. The good news is that the project is well ahead of schedule. There are a few little things to finish up with the finding aid, including calculating the extent and triple checking the folder list and notes, and to put the last handful of oversized items into a folder and their new permanent home. But other than those small things, the project is complete and I would say it has been successful.

In part because the project has been ahead of schedule, I am working on creating an exhibit for the fourth floor of Joyner Library. The exhibit – the name is still a work in progress – will open in January. I am fortunate that I will still be at ECU at that time and will be able to help install the exhibit and see my vision come to fruition. The exhibit is not in a finished state on paper right now by any means, but it is really beginning to take shape and I can envision the overall look. A history of the Institute of Outdoor Theatre will set the stage (no pun intended) for visitors in the initial display cases. The other cases will highlight outdoor productions across North Carolina: The Lost Colony, Strike at the Wind, Sword of Peace, Horn in the West, Unto These Hills, and Montford Park Players. As the exhibit gets closer and solidifies, I will try to post again with more information.

Update on Oversized Materials


All the oversized materials

The oversized materials have been a bit tricky to figure out how to store. There is a vast amount of oversized materials and a variety of formats: posters, photos, blueprints, foam core, etc. The oversized materials came to the library in a few boxes, but were all together. Originally, I had sorted them by state. It made sense to me since most of the material corresponded to specific productions and theatres. But with all of it sorted that way, I really wasn’t sure how to store the material. Some productions had rolled and unrolled items, blueprints, and photos. From a conservation and preservation standpoint, they should not be co-mingling. So, it was back to the figurative drawing board. Through discussions with the conservator, digital librarian (who works with the finding aids), and manuscript archivist, a new plan was devised. Create a new series of oversized materials, sort them by type, and list the items included. It makes for a little more work right now, but I think it will ultimately be better for researchers.

Oversized by Type

Oversized materials sorted by type

Done Labeling (Almost)

Over 3,400 folders labeled. It took longer than I had hoped, but with the exception of oversized items, everything has been assigned a number. Audio-visual items took longer than I had anticipated because some had to be rearranged into alphabetical order while others were put in an archival box, but then I found a different archival box that would fit them better. So there was a couple of times that I ended up moving materials twice into archival boxes. Let me break down some of the numbers:

  • 3,437 folders
  • 425 boxes (of varying size)
  • 103 audio cassettes
  • 89 audio reels
  • 93 CDs
  • 41 floppy disks (3 ½” and 5 ¼”)
  • 80 film reels
  • 5 records
  • 131 VHS and DVDs
  • Over 6,000 slides

There are items from as early as 1921 (Pilgrim Pageant in Massachusetts, which was featured in this blog post) to this year. That is 95 years represented in this one collection. It was an entirely different world back then. Photographs are one way to see this evolution. The early photographs are in black and white, and at times can be grainy, and now most photographs are digital, in color, and highly detailed. Both ends of the timeline, along with thousands (I am not even going to try to estimate exactly how many photos are in this collection) from in between, including slides, are available in the Institute of Outdoor Theatre’s archives.

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What do I do now? Well, after I did a small celebratory dance that folder numbering is done, I am starting with the oversized materials. I have an inventory of all the oversized materials, I just now need to put them into their proper order. The vast majority correspond to a production represented in all of the state files. What will make this process of sorting and rehousing the oversized materials into archival boxes or oversized folders is there are both rolled and flat items. If a production has an item rolled and a flat item, I will need to make a decision on how they will be described in the finding aid – do I list them separately? Flatten the rolled item? Roll the flat item? I am hoping this will not be a big issue, but I won’t know for certain until I start sorting all of the oversized items.

Oversized 1

Just a portion of the oversized materials

Numbers, Folders, and More Numbers

When last I updated, I had just figured out the series and order the folders were going to go in and was working to rearrange them. Well, in the ten days since, I have numbered just over 2100 folders. That’s a lot of folders. It is far from the glamorous part of this job; in fact, at times it is downright tedious and boring. But it is essential. Every folder must be properly numbered and a running list of folder names, date ranges, and assigned number must be maintained. This list will become the container list, and it is only as useful to the researcher as I make it clear and accurate. Here is a preview of what the folder list looks like:

Folder List

How do I keep myself from going crazy? There have been a few times when that was not possible – I’ve given up numbering for the day and worked on figuring out the actual folder number for digitized items so it can be corrected. (Because folder numbers were not known at the beginning, items were digitized assigned a place holding number until the correct folder number was determined.) I try to get up every hour or so to stretch and just look at something other than “#1250.220.e” and “IOT Archives.” Even if I just walk around the offices, it is something. While numbering the folders I have worked in relative silence, listening to music, or the one I find most enjoyable is to listen to podcasts. And generally the podcasts I listen to are nothing very serious (ok, I have been listening to Disney podcasts, and if you know me this should not come as a surprise whatsoever).

This is what my work area looks like on a daily basis.

This is what my work area looks like on a daily basis.

After ten days, I believe I am just over halfway through the folders. I would love to have everything numbered by the start of August, but I do not think that is a realistic goal. I think by the first half of the second week in August is a much more doable timeline, but any time before than would be amazing.

Until next time, I am off to continue numbering. #1250.239.a, #1250.239.b, #1250.239.c….

Three Months To Go

Just under three months left. It doesn’t seem possible. The project has come a long way since October. For one, the archives are now in a temperature and humidity controlled environment which will help to slow down the decay process. With the exception of oversized materials (such as blueprints, posters, and large photographs), the paper materials are in archival folders, awaiting their move to archival boxes in the coming weeks. Now that everything has been gone through and put into proper folders, it was time to arrange them into an order that makes best sense…to create series. The Institute of Outdoor Theatre’s organization and arrangement of materials naturally created some of the series, with a couple of boxes seemingly out of place from packing all the materials up, particularly the last box Puzzle Piecesbrought over which contained files that had somehow been missed when initially packed. And audio-visual material boxes being spread throughout the initial box list.

I took my handwritten notes and used them as puzzle pieces to figure out the best order. Some pieces were re-arranged, discussed, and moved again. Soon, the puzzle pieces fell into place and the larger image of the Institute of Outdoor Theatre’s Archives developed.


Order Boxes

Getting the folders all in order

Now comes the part of making sure the folders are in the correct order, adding the few materials that had slipped into the wrong place to their appropriate folder, and begin numbering the folders and re-housing them in archival boxes. From there, creating the actual finding aid and container list.


A Grad Assistant’s Farewell

So I am finishing up my time working on the collection and thought a final wrap-up might be in order. Based on my experience with the collection I think it is a very valuable resource to see the detailed records of an organization that worked tirelessly (and still does) to foster growth and camaraderie in the world of outdoor drama. From souvenir programs spanning over 50 years to feasability studies and attendance statistics, the IOT records tell the story of an organization that has been there providing support and sage advice to the industry. Searching through the collection, one gets a sense of the history of the outdoor theatre movement with its early successes through boom times and economic downturns. One thing remained steady though; the hard work of the Institute of Outdoor Theatre and the many theatre companies, past and present, who risk it all to bring high quality entertainment to the masses and provide economic sustainability to regions throughout the US and beyond. I am thankful to have learned more about outdoor theatre than I knew there was to learn and to have been able to work with great people while doing it. I plan to get out and see as many productions as I can this summer and encourage any readers out there to do the same!


Blackbeard in Outdoor Theatre Exhibit

For the past two months, we had an exhibit, Blackbeard in Outdoor Theatre, in Joyner Library. It focused on the four plays in North Carolina that featured Blackbeard. The first one, Queen Anne’s Bell, was produced in 1955 to celebrate the town of Bath’s 250th anniversary. To honor the heritage of Bath’s people, everything from Bath’s founding to traditional Bath Christmases were depicted, including one of Bath’s most notorious residents, Edward Teach – better known as Blackbeard. Teach was depicted as a boisterous drunk, lacking any moral fiber. Despite this, the greedy Governor Charles Eden and his secretary Tobias Knight allowed Teach into Bath to trade his ill-gotten goods. Because of those two gluttonous colonial officials, Teach was allowed to disturb the otherwise tranquil town.

The second play, Blackbeard: Raider of the Carolina Seas, was written by Ruth Peeling of Carteret County and first performed in 1963. The play centered on the fictional characters of Loretta Thaxton and Theodore Buckman, and their shared hardships while prisoners aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge beginning in July 1718. Blackbeard was portrayed as an impulsive, self-centered man exemplified by his decision to keep Loretta as his servant against the wishes of his crew, instead of ransoming her at Charles Town as planned. Both Loretta and Theodore finally gain their freedom after Lieutenant Maynard of the Royal navy tracked down Blackbeard and put an end to his career. But as the two former prisoners go off to live their lives, they see the ghost of Blackbeard, explaining the legend of Blackbeard sightings.

The last two plays were both written by Stuart Aronson. The first, Blackbeard: Knight of the Black Flag, was performed for ten years beginning in 1977, and revived in 2005 for Bath’s tri-centennial. The play sought to humanize Blackbeard during his last five months. Told from the perspective of Mary Ormand, Blackbeard’s wife, the play explained that Edward Teach was a man capable of great kindness, and that his ferocious persona of Blackbeard was all an act to create his notorious reputation. Spurred to piratical raids by the greedy Governor Eden and his secretary Knight, who were portrayed as the true villains, Blackbeard became an empathetic person trapped in an unfair world. The play ends with Mary learning of Blackbeard’s death and Lieutenant Robert Maynard decapitating the body.

DSCN0106The second, Blackbeard’s Revenge, debuted in 1985. In what Aronson freely admitted as a “fanciful romance,” the play filled in the gaps of the pirate’s early career. Beginning with Teach’s service as a seaman onboard Captain Hornigold’s privateering vessel, the play proceeded to chronical Teach’s rise to the notorious persona of Blackbeard. But the play did not last long. Resulting from financial difficulties, Crystal Coast Amphitheatre, where the play was performed, was sold to a Christian organization in 1987. The new owners opted to replace Blackbeard’s Revenge with a passion play, ending the beginning of Blackbeard.

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The exhibit was recently taken down, but above are photos. Items used in the exhibit include photographs, souvenir programs, and publicity material. Additionally, the Institute’s archives has correspondence and various other materials related to each of the four plays involving Blackbeard.

There are currently no outdoor plays that focus on Blackbeard. But there is always the possibility of one of these plays being revived or a new play written. What do you think? Is there enough interest to generate a Blackbeard play? Or perhaps you attended one of the plays mentioned?

Happy New Year

With the New Year comes some new changes with the project. Two new graduate assistants have joined the project, Kate Clothier and Jeff O’Neill. As they get into the processing, they will be writing blog posts, so be sure to look for those moving forward.

Processing continues on the state files. We are getting close to being halfway through all of the state boxes. And then comes all the other boxes. One of my goal over the next couple of weeks is to get a somewhat better idea of what is in the rest of the boxes. One box is labeled as “manila folders,” but no other description. What does that mean exactly? Other boxes include “building an amphitheatre,” feasibility studies, planning groups, and folders about actors, managers, composers, directors, producers, and playwrights.

Additionally, there are eleven boxes that come from composer Frank Lewin. He worked with Paul Green and Kermit Hunter, among other playwrights, on their symphonic outdoor dramas. Some of the dramas he composed the music for include Beyond the Sundown, Dust on her Petticoats, Blue Jacket, and Trumpet in the Land.

There is still quite of figuring out to do, and a wealth of information to be found. Stay tuned for updates as we continue our journey through the materials.

Moving Forward

With Patrick now working on processing the papers, we have decided to divide and conquer the state materials. While Patrick continues to make progress alphabetically from the beginning, I started at the end of the alphabet and work my ways backwards. We will meet somewhere in the middle, but I’m really not sure which state. If I had to make an early prediction, I would say North Carolina. Not only does the state fall somewhat in the middle alphabetically, it is a state that we have a vast amount of papers from.

Because of the approach we are taking, states will not appear 100% in alphabetical order. As another side note, there are at least a couple of states that will most likely not get their own post because there is simply not enough material.

Once we complete the state materials – which is still weeks away – I am not sure how we will proceed with processing, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Stay tuned…

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