Interview with an Archivist! — AAPEX Interview , Alan Woods — AAPEX

Monday, February 9, 2009

Interview with an Archivist!

That's archivist--not anarchist!

Alan Woods, archivist of the Lawrence and Lee Institute at Ohio State University, wants to preserve not destroy. And he wants your plays. Following is an interview between Mr. Woods and AAPEX's Jaz Dorsey.

Jaz: First off, I want to let our readers know that Alan has been supportive of what AAPEX has been doing from the very beginning. He came to us looking to preserve the work of our African American playwrights and those writing about the African American experience. Thank you, Alan, for helping to legitimize what AAPEX is all about. Now, why in the world would anyone want to be archived?

Alan: Being archived means the work will survive, whether published or unpublished, along with whatever supporting material is included. And also that a corpus of work is preserved, so that a range of the writer’s work can be studied – something that’s not possible for many writers who may find that not all their work makes it into print. If the archive is in an educational institution, then there will frequently be interest on the part of the institution on seeing that the archive is used, and the institution will encourage use through programs, events, and through publicizing the material’s presence. For example, materials from the Lawrence and Lee Institute have been on exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art (see for some coverage) -- and materials from our design collection were exhibited in Prague at the Prague Quadrennial last summer, and will be exhibited in Cincinnati and in Texas this summer. We regularly exhibit materials from our archives locally and internationally.

And, of course, we regularly schedule readings drawn from our collections and from special projects (the Limbo Plays, for example, and the Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors Competition). Readings are held in a variety of locations: on campus, at a couple of galleries off campus, at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center, and we’ve done several at Stonewall Columbus and will do more there as time and material permit.

All this means that a playwright in putting the work in an archive is making the work available to the artists/scholars/students who use the archive, making sure that the work is preserved, and ensuring that the work will be around long after none of us are still here. A list of some sample archives in the Lawrence and Lee Institute can be found at the end of this interview. Oh, and regarding our archiving, it's all free to the playwright.

Jaz: "Free." That's a nice word to a playwright's ears since most of them-- black or white-- you pick a color-- are struggling in anonymity and perhaps-- I know it sounds like a cliche-- poverty-- to get their work read much less produced.

Alan: It's a good word for me, too since I’ve been led to write a few very short pieces myself, which have had a number of productions in the United States, Canada, and South Africa. So, in a nutshell, I can relate.

Jaz: Why did you become an archivist?

Alan: To make sure that the theatre arts of the present are preserved for the future, so that our artistic descendants can have a sense of what was achieved at this moment in time, what our successes were, and where we failed. To ensure, ultimately, that our work is not forgotten.

Jaz: And how does your archive help the playwright?

Alan: The playwright can, through exploring materials in an archive, learn how earlier writers solved (or failed to solve) problems, how they practiced their craft, how they approached areas and topics that might be of interest. In short, an archive provides the base on which artists can build their own work.

Jaz: What was your own evolution as an archivist and how do your other talents and interest benefit?

Alan: I worked in the archives at the University of Southern California as a graduate student, on the papers of the stage, screen and television star Gladys Cooper, whose career as one of the great stage beauties of the London theatre in the first two decades of the twentieth century, as a theatre manager and producer in London in the 1920s, as a Broadway star in the 1930s, and as a star of the screen in the 1940s and 1950s and of television in 1960s until her death in 1971 spanned the range of popular entertainment, and was an eye-opening introduction to the world of popular entertainment which was then not much covered in academic theatre study. The development of archives at Ohio State was a logical career move, and those archives led me to collect the work of contemporary writers and to document the contemporary theatre and performance. The archives allow me to develop courses, seminars, and readings centered on the materials, and to host a regular retreat for writers at Ohio State which benefits the writers, as well as benefiting central Ohio theatre artists and students.

Jaz: Thank you, Alan. Hopefully our writers will take you up on your latest endeavor: playwright interviews re "Battling the Patriarchy: Defining gender, ethnicity and identity in the contemporary theatre." To contact Alan about an interview, please consider using one of the various means below:

Alan Woods
The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute
The Ohio State University
1430 Lincoln Tower
1800 Cannon Drive
Columbus, OH 43210
614 292-6614 office
614 688-8417 fax

Some of the Lawrence and Lee Institute’s collections:
Our general website ; the papers of Columbus native, performer Eileen Heckart, winner of the Tony, Oscar, and Emmy awards ; materials documenting the life of the Los Angeles Theatre Center, a small group which became a major performing arts center, and then ingloriously collapsed, encapsulating the history of the successes and failures of the regional theatre movement of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s
the AAPEX archive, one of several collecting original materials by contemporary writers ; ;
the Charles McCaghy Burlesque and Strip Tease Collection, documenting an important type of popular entertainment and the way its changed over the past century or so ;
the archive of the experimental company, Cupola, of Columbus, Ohio, which is very typical of the approaches to collective, communal creation of the 1970s and 80s. .

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