Too much of a good thing: The Archival Project

As Publications Manager* for the last 3 seasons, I’ve spent a lot of time, well…managing our publications. My job mostly focuses on the words we use while our Art & Web Director, Den, focuses on all things visual. Together we hold, reference, and manage the vast library of printed collateral, advertising, photographs, show art, press clippings, and images.

Since starting in early 2016, I’ve been overwhelmed at the labyrinthine shared digital drive that housed tens of thousands of images, most of which are only from the last 10 years or so. Images of mainstage shows, of course, but also of office shenanigans, staff long gone, parties at the Bruns, talks at the Orinda Library, rehearsals, events in the parking lot, documentation of now-retired initiatives…the list goes on. Really.

Merely a sample of the first level of folders in the Cal Shakes digital image drive.


And that’s just our digital image file. I’ve amassed quite the pile of printed collateral in just a few years: show programs, brochures, postcards, booklets, gala invitations, corporate pitchbooks. We are in a moment in time where all of the physical pieces have digital files to back them up; and yet we still like to collect and file a few of everything for the archives, both short and long term. My first year was also Eric Ting’s first year as Artistic Director and the 25th anniversary of the Bruns, and so a few generous patrons shared with us their carefully-saved programs from 1991 for us to pore over. But what to do with them?

The past few years, the answer has been to:

  1. store it on a bookshelf near my desk
  2. file it in a cabinet in the hallway
  3. and/or add it to the storage archive in the attic.

The attic, organization ongoing.


Oh, the attic. It’s basically a physical version of our digital files. Ever wonder the range and scope of media we have relied on to document the 45 years that Cal Shakes (or California Shakespeare Festival, or Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, or…) has produced shows? With 45 years of history comes four decades of stuff. At last count, our media archive, housed in dusty banker’s boxes, plastic tubs, various binders, or simply stacked in a few feet of shelving, includes:

  • Slides
  • Contact sheets (from slides?)
  • Negatives
  • Large Negatives
  • Design Negatives
  • Photos
  • Undeveloped Film
  • Disposable Cameras
  • DVDs
  • VHS
  • CDs
  • DVD-R (camcorder)
  • Zip floppies
  • Thumb drives
  • CDs
  • Cassette Tapes
  • Reels
  • Show programs
  • Show bibles
  • Season brochures
  • Press Clippings
  • Press Kits
  • Random ephemera

In the time I’ve been here, if for some reason we needed a photo or reference to a show that doesn’t exist in our digital file, I’d climb the steps and dive into an allergy-filled afternoon of searching. Some boxes and slides are super well labeled; some…not.

In the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, our photographers used 35mm cameras and lovingly archived the negatives and slides. In the late 90s and early 00s, digital cameras were new and widely used—and I believe that has lead to a hole in our archive. What photos we can find are developed prints or floating negatives; many very grainy. Technology has moved on, and there is an ongoing arms race of updating tech while backing up what you have so that it doesn’t become obsolete before you transfer it. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt among a few hundred photos for about a decade during the early digital camera period, compared to the thousands we can search through for other years.

As we look forward to our 50th anniversary, we’re getting serious about archiving, sorting, indexing, digitizing, and generally making much of this media more complete, safely stored, and searchable for the future. The project manager for this project is Tatiana Ray, an intrepid and amazing artist who has already wrapped her head around how we might go about doing something like this. It’s a big job. It’s a huge job. At this time, we have 8 hours a month of Tatiana’s time budgeted to this archival project, and whatever time I can scrape up when I’m not doing my other work, so we’re triaging the A/V items for now and working on paper ephemera at another time.

It’s Sisyphean. Stay tuned as we dive deep into the world of archival, including ways we’ll be making some of this available to the wider world!

All photos by J.C. Myers.

*My title is now Creative Content Manager, reflecting the variety of what I’m now producing (and what I’m working on producing in the future) for Cal Shakes as one of our institutional storytellers and editor-in-chief of the programs, our printed scripts, this blog, and our soon-to-be-released new website! Soon you’ll be hearing a lot more from me.



by resident dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream between 1594 and 1598, when the playwright was in his early to mid-thirties (solidly-middle-aged by the standards of his time, “young” by today’s measurements, where the Y and Z generations have an estimated average life-span of 103!)

Midsummer was preceded by Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and the three Henry VI plays that we produced last season. The play’s closest companion, however, was Romeo and Juliet, of which it can be seen as an inversion: while Romeo and Juliet begins as a comedy about youthful infatuation, suddenly plummeting into intense passion and ultimate tragedy, Midsummer begins with a cruel threat of death, soaring from there through darkness, misunderstanding and panic all the way to a glorious comic resolution that is celebrated in multiple marriages. The use of trickery, too, is inverted in the two plays, one for tragic purposes, the other for comic: in Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers are tricked by fate into losing their lives; while Midsummer’s lovers are tricked into complicated, intersecting versions of misunderstanding and despair, ultimately to be resolved within joyous concord.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake

But why doesn’t Midsummer end with the several weddings that provide a gorgeous wrap-up to the hectic cross-currents of alarm and confusion? Instead of ending with its weddings, the play has a final act that counters concord with discord: all of the wedding couples are forced to sit through a performance of The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, a Romeo and Juliet-style horror-show complete with blood and gore, hilariously rendered by an inept group of unschooled actors.

I think this ambivalent ending provides one of the analogues that make the play so powerful in our present day, when myths about happy families and forever-marriages are no longer hammered in as they were after the two world wars.  As a part of their wedding celebration, Shakespeare’s contented lovers witness love that doesn’t end up happily ever-after. They witness, in other words, the future that might easily have confronted them, or the future that they still might face. Swearing to love forever doesn’t necessarily mean forever: there was any number of accidents (falling into a pothole, catching an infection, burning in a house fire), that ended many sixteenth-century marriages almost before they had begun. In a time that was governed by carpe diem (“live for the day,”) people understood, at the most profound level, that happy-ever-after is a dream to be longed for, but, perhaps, something that exists as only a dream.

P.S. Subscriptions to our 2019 Season are available now. If you’ve already subscribed, please consider a donation to Cal Shakes to show your love today!


Agents of Change? or, the struggle for a theme

Subscriptions and Flex Passes for 2019 are on sale now.

A Theme for This Season’s Plays: that’s kind of a “theaters-announcing-their-season” thing, right? I’ve worked with a few artistic directors following all sorts of models for planning a season, and I’ve learned that the capital-t Theme emerges in many different ways, and for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s the element that helps to focus the planning team’s energies when considering dozens of scripts, sometimes (real talk) it’s a request from the marketing team for helping drive the messaging, and often, it’s a trend you start to notice as you’re hammering the final details of the final play into place before announcing.

Last year’s theme—“EPIC”—was a perfect way to describe 2018’s plays. It also evoked the sheer amount of work every artist, administrator, artisan, and technician involved had to undertake as a member of the company. EPIC is a marketing-friendly word, sure, but it also helped name and frame exactly what we were undertaking, how much fun the audience had to look forward to, and what we had achieved at the end of the season.

This year, the through-line is a little harder to capture with a single word. Wearing my marketing hat, I find this tricky. But with my dramaturg glasses on, I find this FASCINATING.

click to enlarge

Click to zoom.

Last September, our Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly wrote some initial thoughts about our two Shakespeare plays in conversation with each other. She mentioned the themes of witchcraft, the social constraints placed on women, and, surprisingly—climate change (sort of):

“There is so much in Shakespeare about elements in the climate reflecting/portending human states of being. Pathetic fallacy means that nature mirrors, and finds ‘universal’ expression for, a human state of mind—for example, the wind and rain in King Lear that batters the king and gives physical expression to the torment of his internal being.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the perversion of the seasons expresses the perversion of human goodness and orderliness. Old Hiems (winter) wears a necklace of spring flowers. In the topsy-turvy emotional world of Midsummer, everything in nature is affected by the struggles and constraints of mortals and fairies: everything in nature is thus distorted and damaged, thirsty for nurture just as the humans and fairies are thirsty for love.

In Macbeth we have a terribly unruly night presaging the death of Duncan:

The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch’d to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour’d the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.”

In an email I wrote to Artistic Director Eric Ting, I said, “I’m trying to build language for next season that runs a through-line. I think I’m landing on something about humanity’s influence (power? manipulation? transformation? alchemy?) on the world and the people around them, but I’m trying to find a pithy way to put it. The other day you mentioned the plays addressing a “panoply of humanity” which is pithy but not quite what I’m going for. Thoughts?”

This was the thematic brainstorming that resulted:

The Consequence of Our Humanity
Agents of Change
Manipulators Abound
We’re Not All Gods
Move Fast and Break Everything
Witches, Fairies, Gods, and Women: Changing the World Around Them Since Like, Forever.

…no? Well, like I said, this year’s capital-t Theme is not lending itself to a single word or phrase.

But it’s there, that overarching refrain. That we manipulate the people in our lives to get what we want, even if (perhaps especially if) we think it’s also what we deserve. That Mother Nature is strong, but she’s losing the battle royale against our human whims. That when given power after having had none, we often abuse it. That when losing power after having had it, we often revolt, in ways large and small. That we all affect the world around us, often—despite the best of intentions—for the worse.

That it’s never too late to set things right, no matter the cost.

Subscriptions and Flex Passes for 2019 are on sale now.
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