By Sarah Wingo, Librarian for English Literature, Theatre, and Romance Languages and Literature
Being the librarian for Villanova’s graduate theatre department helps to keep me on my toes. Although theatre may seem like a fairly straight forward discipline to those unfamiliar with it, doing theatre research can often require as much creativity and ingenuity as the productions themselves. There simply isn’t any one database that a person can rely on for theatre research in part because the field is so wide and varied Sophocles to Shakespeare to Lorraine Hansberry and that’s not even taking into account musical theatre, immersive theatre, or the countless other forms of theatrical experience past and present.
One of the more common tasks for graduate students in the theatre department is to act as dramaturgs, dramaturgy is complicated, but one of the roles that a dramaturg serves when working on a production is to research the history of a show and that includes past productions history. Understanding how, why, and why plays were produced in the past can help inform the current production. In the academic world there are databases for nearly everything so it tends to be a bit of a surprise to dramaturgy students to learn that there isn’t any one comprehensive database for production history timelines, with one major exception and that’s where my staff pick comes into play.
This staff pick is relatively niche and is specific to Greek and Roman theatre, so while its appeal may not be wide, it is invaluable to those who are working on timelines and histories of these plays or those who may just wish to learn more about the history of Greek and Roman theatre from antiquity to the present.
So whether you’re an Augustine and Culture Seminar student studying that ancients, or a theatre dramaturgy student attempting to piece together a production history for Greek or Roman theatre The Archive of Performances of Greek & Roman Drama (APGRD) is a resource you need to know about.
Below I will provide a few examples of just what this database can do:
We will use Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as our example. In order to find the earliest recorded performances of Oedipus Rex you would fist go into the “The Ancient Performances Database,” which covers the history of over 1,000 performances, 750 ancient works, and 300 authors, actors, and choregoi, this dataset spans the Ancient world from the 6th century BC to the 5th century AD. Once in the “The Ancient Performances Database” the simplest search that can be performed is for the title of a play.
Searching for “Oedipus” yields 17 productions researchers can then click on the on the titles in order to see any additional archival information available for a given production. Information for early productions is usually limited.
Moving on from the “The Ancient Performances Database,” a researcher may then wish to enter the main “Productions Database.” The “Productions Database” contains information on over 14,000 performances of ancient works worldwide since AD 1450. To run a basic search which will provide the database records of every production in the database, you must enter the title of the play or a portion of the title and the contributor’s (author) name. When doing this kind of search I also like to set the “Order by” field to “First Performed” and the “Order” to “In ascending order,” which will provide you with a chronological list in order from earliest to most recent.
This particular search yields 445 results and by clicking on the individual results you can see any archival information available in the database for the production.
However, it is also possible to do a much more specific search, for example if you wished to search to see if there is any record for a production done at Villanova University you would type “Villanova” into “Venues,” and “Sophocles” into “Ancient authors” and run your search again. Which will yield a result for the Villanova Production staged in the 1994-1995 school year.
Finally it is also possible to simply browse by playwright or individual collections within the overall database. For more information about how to use this database or other databases related to theatre please contact Sarah Wingo.
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