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Navigating Ireland's Theatre Archive

Theory, Practice, Performance

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Edited By Barry Houlihan

The historiography of Irish theatre has largely been dependent on in-depth studies of the play-text as the definitive primary source. This volume explores the processes of engaging with the documented and undocumented record of Irish theatre and broadens the concept of evidential study of performance through the use of increasingly diverse sources. The archive is regarded here as a broad repository of evidence including annotated scripts, photographs, correspondence, administrative documents, recordings and other remnants of the mechanics of producing theatre. It is an invaluable resource for scholars and artists in interrogating Ireland’s performance history.

This collection brings together key thinkers, scholars and practitioners who engage with the archive of Irish theatre and performance in terms of its creation, management and scholarly as well as artistic interpretation. New technological advances and mass digitization allow for new interventions in this field. The essays gathered here present new critical thought and detailed case studies from archivists, theatre scholars, historians and artists, each working in different ways to uncover and reconstruct the past practice of Irish performance through new means.

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Introduction: The Potential of the Archive (Barry Houlihan)

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Barry Houlihan

Introduction: The Potential of the Archive

In William Shakespeare’s Othello, suspicion of Desdemona’s supposed infidelity is engineered through deliberate misinformation. Othello demands evidence for the charges levelled by Iago against ‘fair’ Desdemona and her falsely named lover, Cassio. He forewarns Iago: ‘Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof.’1 The visual recognition of evidence confirms to the eye (if not always to the mind) the answer to what one is questioning. Evidence must be seen in order to be believed – ocular proof. If, subsequently, the provision of evidence demands questions to be asked of it in order to be verified (or not), then the evidence itself becomes a form of performance. The curation of evidence, in the form of an archive, through its presentation, preservation, medium, and dissemination necessitates an active becoming, an ordering, for it to be understood.

This volume presents a new study of the status, form and potential of the archive of theatre and performance in terms of learning, accountability and diversity, and also for archive material reconstituted as, and in, new performance work. The following essays address international concerns in relation to the growing discussions around documentation, preservation and exploitation of archival records of performance, especially within a digital humanities context. The book puts forward arguments that are built on the idea of navigation: how does one journey through the archive? Where does that journey begin and where does the historical record provide a definitive end-point – if...

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