Re-staging History

News Feature

News & Events

April 18, 2012
[b]Jim Quinn[/b] has emptied the file cabinets. He's helped haul the 30 boxes, and stored 20 more in his garage. [br][br]And this is only the beginning.[br][br]The work is in connection to the Maxwell Library's recent acquisition of the archives of the New England Theater Conference, a 60-year-old organization that was founded by iconic drama critic and educator Elliot Norton. BSU is now home to this vital piece of regional art history and a treasure trove of material for future researchers. Plans call for it to be organized and archived; some material will be digitized for online access.[br][br]"I think this will be a great source for students and scholars as a history of theater and especially of regional theater," said [b]Michael Somers[/b], director of library services, who helped bring the archive to BSU. "It's essentially an uninterrupted history that spans 60 years. You're talking about an ongoing contribution to the cultural life of the region."[br][br]The New England Theater Conference always enjoyed a privileged place in theatrical circles even beyond the borders stipulated by its name, due to Mr. Norton's reputation and influence. He was a critic for nearly half a century and taught at Boston University; he died at the age of 100 in 2003. Through the connection with this giant of the theatrical world, NETC has always been able to attract top names to its events and volunteer board.[br][br]Which makes the archive even more interesting and valuable. It contains the records of guests such as Stephen Sondheim and Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, as well as a new play in progress by a famed playwright that was given a reading at one of the organization's conventions. The archive is also comprised of back issues of the New England Theater Journal, transcriptions of keynote addresses by Broadway notables, convention programs, awards listings, meeting minutes, photos and documents that date to the organization's founding. It all adds up to the story of the organization, its people and the regional theater scene at all levels.[br][br]"It's basically the history of the 60 years we've been in existence," said Joe Juliano, NETC's manager of operations and former president. "I think once it's organized and we can get the word out it will be an opportunity for people who want to get a handle on the history of theater over these years."[br][br]The archive found its way to BSU through an offer by Mr. Quinn, professor of theater at BSU, to continue to serve the organization after he completed two terms as president.[br][br]"I wanted to stay involved and told them I'd take on one project at a time," he said. "This seemed like the perfect project."[br][br]After shopping the archive around to Yale, Harvard and B.U., and finding that none would keep it intact and do the necessary work to make it available to researchers, Professor Quinn talked to Mr. Somers and the idea arose of bringing the archive to Bridgewater.[br][br]"For the library to be the recipient of this collection of materials shows a great sense of trust," Mr. Somers said. "The organization is not equipped to archive and make available to scholars certain of its documents, but we can.[br][br]"This is really wonderful," he said.[br][br]Additionally, BSU has a long-standing connection to the NETC: four faculty members are fellows of the organization, representing a minimum of ten years each as a volunteer in some capacity. They are Professor Quinn, Drs. Arthur Dirks and Suzanne Ramczyk, and the late Dick Wayre.[br][br]Once the future of the archive was settled, Professor Quinn and a few extra hands traveled during the summer to Saugus to retrieve the materials. Now the work of sorting, categorizing, digitizing, and properly storing the material can begin.[br][br]The archive material stops at 2004, when Mr. Juliano took over as manager of operations. However, future material will eventually make its way into the archive, creating a living and growing collection, Professor Quinn said.[br][br]Sitting in his office looking at the cabinets that were once packed with the history of the organization, and contemplating the work that lies ahead, Professor Quinn said one of the most vital things about the archive is that it covers a great period in American dramatic history.[br][br]"We have 61 years of material spanning the best years of American theater," he said. "We were fortunate things fell together this way. It came together at the right time." (Story by John Winters, G '11, photos by Robert Matheson, '07, University Advancement)[br][br][br]
Jim Quinn (sitting) and Mike Somers sift through some of the donated materials
A collection of old photographs was part of the donation