Blesok no. 57, November-December, 2007
The New Face of Theatre Museology
or the Past in the Future
In the beginning, I would like to share with you the “the first stroke” of my personal elaboration on the theme of memory; some of it based on my research of this subject, some is part of that which is called self-knowledge, and some of it is more artistic than scholarly.
To remember means to dream.
To remember means to know.
To remember means to have a lucid approach to that which has been.
In the system of the memory of a specific culture and its organized gathering of its fundamental achievements, memories are situated in concrete and precisely determined spaces: museums, archives, institutes. In all these spaces the past is stored in a serious and responsible manner.
Theatre memory is not merely the personal memory cherished by an individual, be that an actor, director, set designer, playwright, spectator or critic. Just like the theatre itself, theatre memory is a collection of personal and official memories which is multiple and multi-layered. Therefore, provoked by this theme which is the subject mater of our Conference, I decided to write about theatre museology from the inside and directly, both as an individual and a professional. More specifically, I decided to write about its new face and the ways in which an established system of archiving cultural heritage is activated in present-day conditions – in the period of global digitalization. The possibilities that digitalization offers to a museum, that is, to the theatre museum carry/convey/transport /propel the past into the future. Research has been done on several specific museum exhibitions, and it also included the personal efforts in this domain that focused on certain collections kept at the Institute of Theatrology of the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje. Our research also included the online collections of the Theatre Museum in London, the existing exhibitions of MHAT and other prominent theatre houses, as well as classical museum collections of the theatre museums in Belgrade and Sofia. The direct involvement and inclusion not only in the process of observation, but also in the process of the creation of the object of study generated a specific context in which this study is transposed.
Theatre needs memory. Memory extends the life of the theatrical act. If a complete collective memory is absent (not in the psychological context generally known as collective memory), theatre, too, will vanish. The competence of theatre memory is in its collective nature and in the possibility to use more different sources in order to present the exceptional work of art. The theatrical performance which does not include only theatre as drama, but all other performing arts as well, should be guarded and archived in a specific way which is dictated by the basic means of expression of the given art form. As it says in the introduction of the catalogue of the permanent exhibition of the Theatre Museum at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, “The theatre is magic and alive. Theatre is performance: all kinds of performance – opera and pantomime, music and ballet, circus and variety show, magic and mime.” (Schouvaloft, 1987:4). And all this in contrast to its finality, ephemerality ans transience. With the dropping of the curtain and the bowing of the actors the end of the theatrical act is inevitable. The Theatre Museum in London is one of the most famous in the world. In the old and noble and, let me say, recognizable English style, it collects he memories of an entire great theatrical culture. A culture aware of its tradition, such as the English one, sees in this museum the last home of the theatrical artifacts, and especially those on which time has taken its toll. Such views of the world and art in general are traditional and, allow me to say, conservative; however, such is also the system they apply in the collecting of theatre artifacts: simple, precise, material, classical, traditional and, let me say again, conservative.
Why do I begin here, from this museum and from this memory and this theatre? Because it is from here that somehow the attitude to the theatre and the museum begins to be articulated and adjusted; this makes possible not only the gathering, but also studying and researching of this type of material. It does not allow the artistic artifact to die but, instead, enables its further use, of course, in completely different circumstances. The same catalogue I quoted above also states that “ memory joined with entertainment has always been special and evocative.” I would like to emphasize a well known and generally accepted fact, and that is that remembering, memory and recollection have always been the theatre’s direct allies, especially if they have been given an official form, as in a museum. Something that is about to disappear, vanish or end needs something that is final, long-living and endless. That is why the connection between the theatre and memory is immediate and constant. On the other hand, there is also the awareness of “new forms” (Chekhov) which includes not only the theatre, but also the manner in which its elements are collected/gathered. Therefore I would like to begin a comparative analysis of the problem, starting from a classical exhibition presented in a typical building, with classical artifacts dated and exhibited in a manner known before hand, and the new method of presentation of this very same, traditional museum on the Internet, completely accessible to all those who are interested. Naturally, in contrast to the already known presentations of the largest and most representative digital museum collections, such as that of the Hermitage Museum in Sankt Petersburg on the Internet, designed in collaboration with one of the largest computer companies in the world, IBM, as well as that of the Museum of the Holocaust in New York, this collection in London, as well as those from other traditional theatre museums, is simpler and serves only to acquaint the visitor with the collection, and does not necessarily include its presentation. The two representative digital museums that I have mentioned above have transformed completely their artifacts from material into digital and have thus transformed the medium of their presentation. IBM has designed a special tool for the search of the museum’s collections intended only for the virtual digital world. Its acronym is QBIC (Query By Image Content). It is a search engine which helps in the finding of the requested artifact and makes possible its viewing in various formats and positions (two- and three dimensional images, different backgrounds, analysis of small details, maximum zooming, etc.) The entire digital/virtual museum is designed to offer more possibilities than the standard museum exhibits and, at the same time, to demonstrate that side of technology which is focused on the advancement of art. Therefore the focus of this paper is on the new face of theatre museology, the possibilities it offers and the inventive and innovative ways of its presentation.
In the theatrical context, collecting and gathering memories and recollections always means gathering numerous and different small fragments that should complete the picture. Therefore, in the theatre museum, only fragments of memory such as a photograph, a picture, sound, video, costume, sketch, scene, text or notes can be found. Each of these fragments must aid the theatrologist in completing the picture in the effort to reconstruct it. Now we come to the key element in the process of archiving memory, and that is research and expertise – not only collecting and exhibiting as such. Theatre museology is a specific discipline which focuses on the further ‘resurrection’ of the performance through collecting different objects in various forms; it involves not only their protection, gathering, archiving and presentation, but also their further study, observation and use in various contexts and exploitation in future studies. Hence, we can say that the theatrical performance continues to exist, offering new metamorphoses of the act itself, transformations which are not only immanent to the theatre as an art form, but are also its fundamental feature. The theatre museum will always remind us of the great and grandiose performances, “those that we have seen and those that are legendary.” (Schoulvaloft, 1987:4). Its objective is to evoke, resurrect and bring back to memory theatrical performances.
My personal insisting on the need for a theatre museum and archiving of theatre memory is not initiated only by my personal attitude to the theatrical artifact, but by the growth of museology in the domain of culture over the past ten years or, more precisely, since the beginning of the new century. Why should an institution of the past intended to “receive or collect objects when, for some reason, they are no longer needed or when they can no longer serve the purpose for which they were originally made in the form in which they were created” (Vuk-Pavlović, Pavao, 1994:80) be needed in a time situated in a digital/virtual world which uses the simple abbreviation RL (real life) for the world of our everyday lives? The answer becomes obvious with only a brief look on the current and popular cultural phenomena, and that is collecting memory from the immediate past, memory on the level of microhistory or personal history. This is so since this complex transfer of information via the Net (Internet) facilitates the finding of other forms of archiving memory; however, this does not refer to one type of cohesive and institutionalized memory, but of a number of different memories of individuals that will be guided, collected and presented by a specific theme and will establish the original impulse and a mutual relationship. Therefore, the interest in the digitalization of the theatrical artifact and its diving into the expanses of the Internet and the possibility of accessing more theatrical phenomena can be situated at the same level. Just as the present-day culture needs the memory of different phenomena such as museums for children, chocolate museums or museums of dreams, so do we need theatre memory presented in a different and modern way.
In the past, the purpose of founding theatre museums was to collect, study and exhibit material related to the development of theatrical art (Šukuljević-Marković, 2000”16).Today, theatre museums serve as creative research centres of the same purpose; however, they archive memory in a different manner. The difference lies in the medium in which this memory is preserved, and then researched and presented.
The purpose of these considerations is to demonstrate that the final and ultimate synergy between the digital and material artifacts is the best option for the new theatre museum. Since we are dealing with a specific museological problem – fragments vs. the whole – the modern digital world allows for a different perspective on the new theatre museum. Digital technology facilitates archiving of memory and makes possible the longer preservation of its function as something which, by its very nature, is otherwise ephemeral in its ontology.
The artifact is part of cultural heritage; it is a causal concentration and a unique continuum of the heritage we acquire and enrich in the process of our overall involvement in art and culture. As Raymond Williams puts it, if analyzed, every tradition can be proved to be “a selection and re-selection of the important accepted and renewed elements.” (Williams, 1996: 201). The artifact is, in essence, a nucleus, the concentrated tradition and way of transmission of the past into the future. Therefore, every collection of memories is based on artifacts and on objects which have been taken over from the past and which are concentrated on a specific past phenomenon, and then transported into the future. Each cultural phenomenon has its own artifacts, but one artifact can be of the same nature for different cultural phenomena.
The theatrical artifact is a specific cultural and artistic specimen. In contrast to the artifacts that belong to other art forms, the theatrical artifact is a multiude of individual objects. If the performance as a theatrical work of art is defined as an artifact, it archives various forms: the play text, photographs, sketches, drawings, costumes, stage design drawings and models, musical notes and the stage manager’s notes, light design and the most recent forms, such as audio and visual recordings. The theatre performance does not have single meaning nor is it a one-dimensional artifact. This multitude of artifacts is the basis of its collection. The theatre performance cannot be preserved as a whole: we can only indicate the varied forms of its archiving. Hence, we speak of a symbiosis between the material, visible and palpable artifacts such as sketches, photographs, costumes, etc., and their presentation in a traditional way, and the potential of digital artifacts, audio and video recordings digitalized and archived in various different formats and then presented through the new media: CD ROMs, DVDs, computer presentation in various programmes, archiving in data banks, Internet presentations ranging from simple uploading of photographs (slide shows) to special virtual museum exhibitions that will resemble, and even evoke, the museum of our dreams, that is, the museum of our past. The research that has been carried out for the purpose of this study revealed that the need for the new face of theatre museology is essential also in terms of its popularization. The audience as the direct factor in the theatrical performance should be given an opportunity to continue to follow it through the classified and archived memories of it. Thus, the active model of reception of a performance will continue on the level of an active reception of its memory. I would also like to stress the possibility of bringing it closer to the home of the theatergoer through digital displays presented in the room of a virtual world and its accessibility to everyone on the basis of the original concept of the Internet. Personally speaking, I find such an approach possible, interesting and attractive both as a theatergoer and theatre researcher. That is why I would like to shift the focus on a concrete space and tradition, and that is Macedonia. Although the Internet is a globally accessible medium, nevertheless, the tradition that should be “propelled” to the global field is personal and national. Therefore the subject of my interest is my personal theatrical tradition.
Macedonia does not have a theatre museum. In Macedonia, theatre memory is, in fact, personal, non-systematized and uncollected. The long-standing efforts of the Institute of Theatrology at the Faculty of Dramatic arts are concentrated on the basic archiving and elaboration of a number of theatrical artifacts. Here, we should give special attention to the fact that the first online museum does exist. On the Internet page of the Institute you can see the first digital theatre museum collection. Although this is a simple presentation of photographs in digital form that can be freely visited, still it is the first step in the displaying of a representative theatre museum collection. This collection and other galleries with specific productions can be visited at www.mactheatre.edu.mk.
This is the point of departure for, provisionally said, a new way of memorizing. The keeping of the theatrical artifact in a format different from the primary one will not reduce its originality; on the contrary, it will extend its lifetime. The archiving of the theatre memory in Macedonia is based on several levels. In addition to personal memories that should not be neglected, but included in the collective archives in a high-quality manner, there is also the engagement of the members of the team at the Institute of Theatrology at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje. There, the complete theatre memory is archived, digitalized and presented. Of course, every theatre in Macedonia has its own system of archiving artifacts. They are mostly visual, and kept in inadequate spaces, lacking standardized selection and archiving. From the theatrical point of view, all these forms of preserving the theatrical past should be collected in a single theatre museum that would also serve the purpose of archiving, presentation and study of both digital and material artifacts. Such bringing together of the past and the future would generate more potential for the theatre memory in Macedonia.
This, of course, is only my personal theatrological observation on the given topic and its purpose is to draw attention to the possibility of its further exploration.
Memory or collective memory is the initial motive for the establishment of a modern museum that would correspond equally with the past and the future. Therefore, the theme that is referred to in the title of this paper brings together the seemingly oxymoronic chronological determinants. Theatre memory should be nourished/cherished in a specific form exactly because of its polyvalence and variedness. The new face of theatre museology should be sought in the symbiosis between the digital and the material artifact and in the educative aspect of the exhibitions that would flirt with different genres, the limitless potential of the global Net and with the desire to acquaint others with that which is characteristically ours.
As the last “shot”, I would like to share with you several personal remarks on this very same subject. Some of them are more personal than scholarly, some are more feminine than universal, some are only an intermission in the plays of a great master of the theatre.
To remember the theatre means to remember the knowledge of a people.
To remember the theatre means to dream of the art performed on a stage.
To remember the theatre means to archive life, genuinely and in accordance with Shakespeare’s lines, “All the world’s a stage.”
Вилијамс, Рејмонд (1996) Културата, Скопје: Култура.
Вук -Павловиќ, Павао (1993) Творештвото и музејската естетика, Скопје: Мета форум
Craig, Edvard Gordon (1980) O umetnosti kazališta, Zagreb: Centar ya kulturnu delatnost.
Ермитаж Музеј (2006) from http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/index.html (15 mar. 2007)
Македонски театар (2002) from http://www.mactheatre.edu.mk (2 mar. 2007)
Pavis, Patris (2004) Pojmovnik teatra, Zagreb: Akademija dramske umjetnosti; Centar za dramsku umjetnost; Izdanja Antibarbarus.
Schouvaloft, Alexander (1987) The Theatre Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: Skala Bokks
Theatre Collections Online (----) from http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/theatre/index.html (28 feb. 2007)
Theatre Museum (----) from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_Museum (9 mar. 2007)
The Columbian Theatre, Museum and Art Center (----) from http://www.columbiantheatre.com /history/default.asp (9 mar. 2007)
The Museum of Jewish Heritage (2003) from http://www.mjhnyc.org/index.htm (15 mar. 2007)
Шукулевић-Марковић, Ксенија (2000) 50 Година Музеја позоришне уметности Србије, Београд: МПУС