Too much of a good thing?

The Archival Project begins. 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. But what to do with them?
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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.

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