In what could be an interesting development, the New York Times blog, Arts Beat, recently announced a (temporary?) new feature, “Ask a Theater Historian,” in which readers get to post questions “about the history of the American theater” to Marc Robinson.  There already are quite a few questions.   Stay tuned.


Open House at the National Archives-New York office

The Northeast Region (located in New York City) of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had an open house on October 13, 2009.  For those who had never used the New York center of archives (covering NY, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), it was a great opportunity to get acquainted with the resources of the facility.  Though I was there on work-related business, it overlapped with my genealogy hobby.  There were a number of genealogists there, too.

Dorothy Dougherty, in charge of public programs at NARA

Dorothy Dougherty (NARA staff in charge of public programs) showed a video from their website and provided an overview of the history of the United States and its archives.  The value in going through the institution’s history helped explain why certain materials are not there.  Although everyone had a chuckle as she went through a history of the fires (there had been many), it was quite instructive in revealing why certain records no longer exist, and why others do exist even if you would expect them not to be around. That’s the reason the 1890 US census is mostly gone – it was consumed by fire because it was being stored at the Department of Commerce, rather than the area where the rest of the censuses were kept.  She concluded her talk with a quick tour of how to navigate NARA’s website.

Staff showed us some interesting artifacts followed by a brief behind-the-scenes walking tour of their stack area.  To say there is tons of material is an understatement.  It seems as if the New York office is loaded with records of ship crews docking in New York for the past 200 years (ship captains had to keep inventories of crews to determine when any of them would stay behind).  Virtually any federal activity that took place in the New York region (which includes New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands) is kept mostly in the New York office (at 201Varick St. – literally at the Houston St. stop on the no. 1 train).
Of the 9 full-time staff members in the New York office, 2 of them are devoted to programming and outreach.  If a group wants to meet in the archives and have (or customize) their own tour, Ms. Dougherty would be one of the people to arrange such things.  Seems like a great opportunity to plan a visit for a group.

Raffle at the NARA open houseAfter the tour, the staff held a raffle of several copies of a newly published book of photographs from the archive.  After the official end of the program, NARA staff was eager to answer questions from individual attendees.

Materials concerning "Happy Birthday To You" on display at NARA

So what is the connection between this nice NARA visit and the performing arts?  There was a prominent display of materials documenting the copyright dispute concerning the song “Happy Birthday To You.”  (Wikipedia has a summary of the legal entanglements involving this most familiar of songs in English, due to the belief that the song is still in copyright.)

It was very pleasant and educational visit (I need more time to pursue some genealogy threads!).  I highly recommend groups contact Ms. Dougherty and arrange a group visit.  Entrance to the 12th floor headquarters of the National Archives office

Afterwards, staff was eager to answer individuals’s queries.Entrance to the 12th floor headquarters of the National Archives office

I really thought I already had written a blog post about this great project developed under the auspices of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, but it still must be sitting in my ever-expanding pile of good intentions.  At any rate, I must say that I have been enjoying the NPR radio series about the  4,000 hours or so of audio recordings made by Life magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith at the New York City loft space he rented at 821 Sixth Avenue between the years 1957 and 1965.   I also am delighted to discover that the Project has now sprouted a book and a blog, and, soon, an exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts!

In addition to documenting the sounds of now-legendary jazz artists in their prime and the changing New York cityscape, Smith also recorded those other kinds of cats in the loft that tried to keep the vermin at bay.  Sadly, the Jazz Loft Project Web site does not yet include any cat recordings (you can hear a fragment on one of the radio broadcasts), but  they do provide a lovely image of a solitary cat on the site’s “Primary” slide show (no. 24) for your viewing pleasure.

I guess they’re not too concerned with marketing to librarians and archivists at this point.


Rehearsal photographs with Agnes de Mille and unidentified dancers

Sincere apologies yet again for the lack of posts recently.  You may imagine that we were very, very busy with Archives Month.  Here’s hoping that we will be a little more on the ball once more now that November has rolled around.

Short notice, but for all you fortunate New Yorkers, this Sunday offers a very special program at the 92nd Street Y in which the estimable and plucky New York Theatre Ballet will present “reconstructed works by Agnes de Mille from her Broadway and concert repertoire, followed by a panel discussion with Diana Byer, Gemze de Lappe and Elena Zahlmann discussing de Mille’s contributions to theater dance and her lexicon of dance gesture.”

We’d sure be there if we could!

While we’re at it, could anyone take a stab at identifying the individuals from the images?  It looks most likely to be a publicity/rehearsal photograph from one of de Mille’s Broadway shows from the 1950s, but it is hard to make out anyone but de Mille with any certainty in the tiny format.  Maybe you have sharper eyes.

Image credit: NYPL Digital Gallery ID TH 07969

And no time to work up a thoughtful post either, but I promise not to quote that P J Harvey song.  Just a quick note to let you know that the Harry Ransom Center recently announced that the Robert De Niro Film Materials Collection is now available to researchers.  You can read the official press release in all its multimedia splendor here.

Something else to look forward to in Austin!

Performing Arts Roundtable member, Kit Leary, sent in a copy of this lovely promotional poster (which, hopefully, will display correctly here).  In what sounds sure to be an interesting series of programs, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is simultaneously celebrating both the state’s sesquicentennial and its own historic connection with the 19th century Chautauqua movement. The first of these events is scheduled for this Saturday.  Check it out if you happen to be in the Ashland area or you might consider working one of the others into your summer vacation plans.  Full info is available here.

William Gaxton and Constance Carpenter in original Broadway production of "A Connecticut Yankee" (1927).

William Gaxton and Constance Carpenter in original Broadway production of "A Connecticut Yankee" (1927).

Man, is it ever hard to find a decent portrait of a Broadway musical orchestrator (even when the arranger also is a composer), so I guess it’s a fantastic idea that the Library of Congress is presenting a free two-day symposium on the topic in May.  You can read the press release with full information here.  The program is being offered in tandem with the publication of The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations by Steven Suskin (Oxford University Press, 2009), a book which clearly fills a gap that sorely needed filling (I’ll have to let you know more about the book some day; the title is not yet even on order at my library).

For the record, the orchestrator for the original Broadway production of A Connecticut Yankee was Roy K. Webb (had to look that up on IBDB)

Image credit: NYPL Digital Gallery Image ID: 485112

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