The Abbey Theatre is partnering with National University Ireland, Galway to make the almost two million items in the Abbey’s archives available online. Digitising the theatre posters, prints, programmes, light, set, and costume designs, and audio files will take between three and four years, according to the Abbey Theatre’s website.
The digitisation process began in September on NUIG’s campus. A multidisciplinary team of NUIG’s researchers, students, archivists are currently working with the 1.8 million objects in the collection. Dr. Patrick Lonergan, director of drama programmes at National University Ireland, Galway (NUIG) said the collection will “undoubtedly be the biggest digital theatre archive in the world.”
The collection has numerous gems. One document reveals that James Bond actor Donal McCann played Seamus Bond alongside Angela Newman as Puisin in a production of Aisling as Tir na nOg in 1964.
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Aideen Howard, the Abbey literary director, said the digital collection will provide a way to preserve and protect the various documents. Many of them were charred and damaged when the Abbey caught fire in 1951. Howard said the records and production notes will help show how theatre is “a broad and collaborative art form.”
The range of items in the collection helps prove the point. Documents range from a 1905 playbill featuring a 23 year old Eamonn de Valera in an amateur production of The Christmas Hamper to a 1907 note from the censorship office of Lord Chamberlain concerning the first English tour of ‘The Playboy of the Western World.’
Dr. Lonergan said the collection will “revolutionize the study of Irish theatre” and Ms. Howard said it will make the necessary material available for scholars to write the history of the Abbey. Dr. Lonergan anticipates the collection will receive much attention from theatre scholars not only in Ireland, but also in America, UK, and Asia.
The collection will appeal to more than just theatre scholars. Dr. Lonergan said, ‘One of the really fascinating things about this archive is it reveals things about Ireland’s everyday life. From the collection one early twentieth century playbill features ads for McCarthy and Co.’s gowns for everyday and smart wear and Irish Feather Co. Limited’s call for any feather beds wives might be throwing out.’
The collection will first be exclusively available to students, staff, and visiting scholars. NUIG and the Abbey Theatre will also create projects and exhibitions for the public.
Some of the items in the collection are seen in the video below: