TRI Digital Collections Put Rare Materials at Our Virtual Fingertips
by Cecelia Bellomy
When a patron visits the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute, an entire world of performance history comes alive before them. Everything from set models to celebrity correspondence to classic movie posters are available to be read, studied, and, in most cases, touched.
It may seem like one must be in Ohio to have an experience like this, but the not-so-secret secret is that the TRI, in conjunction with the Ohio State Knowledge Bank, OhioLINK, and Flickr.com, has many incredible collections available for view on the Internet. You can nerd out (or, you know, research) wherever you have a computer!
Digital Collections through the Ohio State Knowledge Bank:
The Knowledge Bank is a service of The Ohio State University Libraries that collects, preserves, and distributes the intellectual output of The Ohio State University. One of the many branches of the University with material in the Knowledge Bank is the Theatre Research Institute. We have three distinct and fascinating collections available for view here.
Charles H. McCaghy is a professor emeritus of the Department of Sociology at Bowling Green State University who has published many books and articles on the topics of criminality, deviant behavior, and stripping. The collections materials come from his personal collection of burlesque and striptease research and memorabilia. Part of the much larger collection of exotic dance materials housed at TRI, this digital collection contains over 200 tobacco and cabinet cards from 1867-1890, featuring burlesque stars from the time.
Cabinet cards are small photographs printed on cards and tobacco cards were tradable photographs which were added to packages of cigarettes to stiffen the packaging. This collection includes photographs of Lydia Thompson who was instrumental in bringing burlesque from England and establishing it in America. Besides giving a look into the under-acknowledged history of burlesque, these photographs show how American beauty standards change with time.
Joel E. Rubin is a titan in the theatre world for his work in the field of lighting design technology. He co-wrote a seminal book on lighting design, Theatrical Lighting Practice, published in 1954, and he was also co-founder and Past President of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. This digital collection comprises over 150 pose slides and artwork for the slide design. Pose slides are glass slides on which a design is hand painted.
They were used to create a type of tableau vivant (“living picture”) performance that was popular in vaudeville at the beginning of the twentieth century. An actress dressed all in white posed against a white background. Then, when a slide was projected onto her, it appeared as if she was in a costume or in a unique environment. These unique designs come from Kliegl Bros. Lighting, where Rubin worked for many years and eventually became vice president. This collection of unique slides, everything from under-the-sea mermaid scenes to slides that make it look like the actress is being burnt at the stake, provide another window into American popular entertainment at the turn of the century as well as into the history of lighting design.
3. Scrapbook Collections
This digital collection is really two in one as it houses both our and the Actress Scrapbooks and the Burrill Henry Leffingwell Scrapbook Collection . Both collections are replete with information about theatre, dance, and film performance at the turn of the twentieth century. Some famous names (see Sarah Bernhardt) certainly come up. The Actress Scrapbooks collection is a group of twelve small scrapbooks compiled by a theatre fan about actresses of the time. They include photographs of famous actresses (and a few actors) in costume and daily wear, at home and in productions. One scrapbook of the twelve is a record of a playgoer’s theatre, opera, and concert experiences starting with The Merchant of Venice at Daly’s Theatre in New York in 1898 starring Ada Rehan as Portia. Of the thirty-four volume Burrill Henry Leffingwell collection, fifteen large scrapbooks archiving American theatre, opera, dance, and film in New York, Boston, Chicago, Paris, and Germany between the years 1880 and 1922 are available digitally. With their thorough compilations of photographs, reviews, and gossip pieces, Leffingwell’s archival work is almost encyclopedic. Best of all?
All of the TRI scrapbooks in the Knowledge Bank have Optical Character Recognition which means, you can perform a word search in any of them, rather than scrolling through hundreds of pages looking for information on one actress or production.
Digital Collections through OhioLINK
OhioLINK’s online Digital Resource Commons, a treasure trove of unique content from Ohio’s Colleges and Universities, is digital home to part of the Lawrence and Lee Institute’s Daphne Dare Collection. Daphne Dare (1929-2000) was a major name in costume design both in America and England. She designed for film (Carla’s Song), television (the first two seasons of Doctor Who), and theatre (Bristol Old Vic, The Royal Shakespeare Company), and became the Head of Design at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, where she designed over thirty-five productions.
This digital collection of more than 1000 records holds mainly costume designs but also includes notes, production photos, set designs, and publicity materials. The designs cover an extensive range of mostly classical productions with a heavy emphasis on Shakespeare and Chekhov shows. The images show up clearly on the screen and an impressive zooming function allows viewers to see exactly how the lace should look on the hem of the dress, or the pattern the necktie should be.
Digital Collections through Flickr
The Charles H. McCaghy tobacco and cabinet card collection is also available on the photo-sharing website, Flickr. is also available on photo-sharing website, Flickr. This is the TRI’s most highly trafficked digital collection. While scrolling through all of the materials is easier on Flickr, the Knowledge Bank version of the collection has a search engine for pulling up pictures of a particular performer.
While nothing quite beats touching the paper Daphne Dare put her pencil to or smelling the old glue in a scrapbook, the Theatre Research Institute has made great strides in providing alternative ways of interacting with captivating collection materials digitally, and more are coming soon. Regardless of where the interaction is taking place, it is simply important that people do get to interact with them. So the next time the research bug bites or in the upcoming inevitable snow days, why not take the opportunity to experience performance history on your own computer, in your own room, on your own terms?