Stephanie Johns and Stephanie Vaillant
The Stratford Festival, located in Stratford, Ontario, is North America’s largest repertory theatre that focuses on performances of Shakespeare, the classics, musicals and new works. The Stratford Festival Archives, housed at 350 Douro Street, is responsible for collecting and caring for the Stratford Festival’s history in its many and varied forms. As a way of understanding the material culture held by the Stratford Festival Stephanie Johns, Education Associate (Teaching Focus), interviewed Stephanie Vaillant, Cataloguing and Digitizing Archivist, to explore why this type of object-centred archival collection is an integral part of Canadian theatre history. Their interview follows:
What does the collection consist of?
We have a multi-faceted collection at the Stratford Festival. Our materials date back to our first season in 1953, with a few pieces from 1952. We have done our best to document the evolution of the Festival from an idea into the thriving company it is today. This evolution is documented through all sorts of materials – everything from press clippings and administrative records to selected prop and costume pieces. In addition to capturing our administrative history, we strive to collect everything required to recreate each and every one of our past productions.
Why maintain this kind of collection?
The Stratford Festival has had a massive impact on the Canadian theatre scene. Going back to the 1950s, when very few professional theatre companies existed in Canada, you had this little dream that grew in a small town and, in doing so, bred opportunities and created artists who have gone on to either create or work in theatres all across Canada. Essentially, the Stratford Festival played a prominent role in creating a national theatre industry. That kind of impact is well worth documenting.
Theatre is ephemeral: you see the play once and then it closes. In your opinion, how does maintaining this collection help lengthen the understanding and experience of theatre in general but also the work Stratford is producing?
Theatre by its nature is an artistic compilation: it cannot be created in isolation. In fact, some of our main user groups are artists who wish to consult the work of those who have previously created something they are currently trying to create. For example, we often have actors come in to consult recordings of performances – they want to see how others have interpreted roles they are undertaking in the upcoming season. Designers frequently come in to see how their fellow professionals have approached a certain production or time period, and directors do likewise. Essentially, preserving how other people have approached material enables others to build on those ideas. It’s the old theory of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ – you build off what has already come before you. Continue reading