The American Theatre Archive Project (ATAP), created in 2009, is an initiative of the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) that advocates for the preservation of American theatrical legacy. Specifically, ATAP provides resources to assist living theatre companies in managing their current and archival records.
Established in the mid-1950’s by American theatre scholars, ASTR seeks to support the field of theatre studies and encourage understanding and development of research resources for theatre historians. Since its organization in the mid-1950’s, ASTR membership grew to include dramaturgs, theatre practitioners, librarians, archivists, and others. Concurrently, ASTR membership met in joint conferences with the Theatre Library Association (TLA). The combined groups’ members have shared developments in the fields of performing arts scholarship and librarianship with the importance of documenting the work of theatre companies as a frequent topic of discussion.
In 2009, following an informal meeting at the November ASTR-TLA conference, an ad hoc committee was formed by Tracy Davis, the current president, and Rhonda Blair, incoming president of ASTR, to address a concern among members that many records of 20th- and 21st-century American theatrical activity were being lost. While some theatre companies – typically larger, established companies – maintained their archives onsite with a staff archivist, and some companies have developed a relationship with an archival repository to preserve and provide access to their records, the vast majority of companies’ records were, and still are, maintained somewhat unsystematically.
In order to address the uncertain fate of large amounts of American theatre archival records, the ad hoc committee agreed on an initial set of goals for a project to help remediate this problem: to prepare archival guidelines for theatre companies, so they would become aware of the value of their records to their own personnel as well as to scholars and the general public; to assist company staff in maintaining their records in-house or making contact with archival repositories that might be interested in acquiring their archives; to find out how theatre archives are used in an academic setting; and how theatre and library school students might become involved in assisting companies with their archives.
Two members of the ad hoc committee, Ken Cerniglia, dramaturg and literary manager of the Disney Theatrical Group in New York and Susan Brady, an archivist at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, drafted the initial plans for presentation to ASTR’s Executive Committee. The Committee approved the plan, and ATAP was officially inaugurated at the ASTR annual conference in November 2010. For a complete history of ATAP, including detailed description of our founders efforts and examples of early intitiation programs we invite you to read “The American Theatre Archive Project: Carrying the Record of the Past to the Future” by Susan Brady and Helice Koffler. Published in the October, 2105 edition of TLA’s Performing Arts Resources, it has been made available here by permission of the authors and the Theatre Library Association.