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University of Alberta Studio Theatre fonds
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- University of Alberta Studio Theatre
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8.5 m. of textual material, 4790 photographic items, four sound recordings, 104 posters, 25 drawings, and 39 plans.
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In 1949, University of Alberta drama professor Robert Orchard, with the help of Elizabeth Sterling Haynes and other University staff and students, created a 149 seat theatre in two deserted Second World War Quonset huts. The Quonset huts, placed side by side, contained between them a stage, auditorium, workshop, drama offices and foyer. Studio Theatre was established as a "laboratory" for students taking courses in the Drama Division; it provided a first-hand opportunity for students, teachers and drama technicians to practice their craft and hone their skills. The following excerpt, printed in a 1961-62 Studio Theatre production program, echoes this sentiment: "Studio Theatre is the producing organization of the Drama Division, University of Alberta. The aim of the division in all its work is to teach living theatre, and to present a rich stage experience through the medium of important historical and contemporary plays." Early participants in Studio Theatre included Robert Orchard, Gordon Peacock, Bert Pullinger, Frank Glenfield, Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, Don Pimm, and Tom Peacocke. Studio Theare was operated by the staff of the Drama Division of the Department of Fine Arts, and the Division offered a Bachelor of Arts in Drama. As well, students in the Faculty of Education could elect drama as their major field of study, and a six-week summer session in drama was established. The first play produced on the Quonset stage was Henry IV, and starred Robert Orchard. Gordon Peacock also had a part. Studio Theatre operated out of the Quonset theatre quarters for eight seasons, producing over 40 full-act plays, numerous one-act plays, offering two world premieres and six Canadian premieres. Studio Theatre actors won a regional drama festival in 1953 with their production of Othello. However, increasing enrollment at the University of Alberta meant that the land occupied by the Quonset huts was needed for an expanding University building program, and the huts were torn down in May of 1958. Without another building to go to, the Drama Department announced that the ninth season for Studio Theatre would be cancelled. In fact a ninth season of production did occur because of an offer of space made by the Faculty of Education. Studio Theatre was provided with the use of a remodeled auditorium and with classroom space in the Education Building (E.A. Corbett Hall) until permanent theatre space was built. Although the University drama community in 1959 was very optimistic that permanent theatre space would soon be a reality, Studio Theatre ended up operating out of Corbett Hall for thirty more years. Productions were viewed as very much 'community' events. Drama students, staff, alumni, and guest performers and directors from the local community and beyond were all featured on the Studio Theatre stage. Studio Theatre performed out of Corbett Hall through June of 1989, winding up its 40th season anniversary with Michael Frayn's Benefactor just prior to the closing of Corbett Hall for renovations on June 17, 1989. The announcement was made that Studio Theatre's new home for the following two years would be the Myer Horowitz stage. Again, forecasts of length of time at the site were underestimated, and it wasn't until 1995 that Studio Theatre moved to its new home in the newly opened Timm's Centre. Studio Theatre, rapidly approaching its 50th anniversary of operation, continues to provide Edmonton audiences with a varied and unique theatre experience. It also continues to serve as a showcase for students graduating from the professional training programs in acting, directing, design, construction, and costuming. Many of the people who gained experience on the Studio Theatre stage have gone on to establish careers in the theatre world.
Scope and content
The records in the Studio Theatre fonds span a period of more than forty years. They offer record of a long-standing and innovative working theatre deeply involved in the Edmonton arts community, as well as documenting an important component of the University of Alberta's drama department program. Studio Theatre has contributed immensely to the development of theatre in Alberta and Canada, as witnessed by the number of individuals working in theatre across the country who have participated and gained experience on the Studio Theatre stage.
The records have been arranged and described in six series, with a basic chronological order maintained within each series. There is information about almost every play produced on the Studio Theatre stage between 1949 and 1991. Information tends to be fairly skimpy for the earlier productions; a production file might only contain a program and review clipping. As the years progress, more and more information is included with the production file. Reports from technical crew heads, front of house reports, financial records and publicity clippings are routinely kept. The production books, described in Series III, often provide the most detailed and varied information about a production. These books are production scrapbooks, and include programs, reports, clippings, telegrams, related correspondence, photographs, set plans, cast lists, and much more. Almost all of the production books have a copy of the script, used by the director as a prompt script and annotated with movement blocking, directions, and notes. In some production books, the director has included a written commentary critiquing various aspects of the production; theme may also be discussed, and background research notes about the play and playwright included.
With over 4000 photographic images (prints, negatives, and contacts) represented in the fonds, it is possible to get a 'visual' sense of the productions. Many productions are represented by both 'official' and 'candid' shots, and there are views of actors, sets, and costumes. The photographs vary in quality of picture as well as physical condition of print. Also documented in the Studio Theatre records are production posters, costume designs and set plans. Again, a researcher may have to consult the production book (Series III) as well as the specific media listing (Series IV) to see all available documents in these areas.
Not represented very extensively in these records is administrative documentation; a researcher interested in Studio Theatre administration should consult the general drama department records. The administrative records that are available in this fond consist of the correspondence files described in Series I. Torches Theatre records are also fairly sketchy, consisting of production books for the years 1962-1969.
The Studio Theatre records are a valuable contribution to theatre history documentation at the University of Alberta, and the City of Edmonton. They provide a glimpse of the people involved in drama during a formative time for theatre development in Edmonton. Social history is revealed through the plays chosen for production at Studio Theatre, mirroring the issues and trends in the wider society. Classical and contemporary plays, some experimental and others quite traditional, are all a part of Studio Theatre's production legacy.
The records have been arranged and described as six series, and a detailed series and file list follows. A brief description is provided of each series, followed by the file listing. A production index is found at the end of the inventory to assist in locating specific files.
Because the Studio Theatre records were received at the Archives as several deposits over a period of years, there was a need to bring the records together intellectually to better aid researchers looking for as complete a picture as possible. A basic chronological arrangement was maintained, with series arrangements assigned by the archivist to reflect function and format of the records.
The records are in good physical shape. The bound production books tend to be somewhat fragile and archivally compromised because of their 'scrapbook' quality. The paper in the books is very acidic, and items have often been attached with glue and scotch tape. Newspaper clippings are taped beside photographs, and oversize plans folded to fit the books. The binding of the production books is good, however, and no attempt was made to remove affixed items from the books. The pages with attached photographs were interleaved with acid-free tissue paper. In the production show files, newspaper clippings were photocopied and originals removed, and photographs were separated from the textual file for separate storage and description. The photographs vary in quality, and physical shape and it is obvious that they were handled a lot in the course of choosing publicity shots, etc. Contact prints and 35mm negatives are available for many of the productions. Where possible, oversize items have been flattened and stored separately.
Immediate source of acquisition
The records of Studio Theatre, Alumni Studio A, and Torches Theatre have been deposited at the Archives by the Department of Drama over a twenty year period. Eric Beaumont, who was a photographer contracted by the Department of Drama to photograph Studio Theatre productions, made one donation of Studio Theatre production negatives. Gordon Peacock also donated a small number of production photographs.
Because Studio Theatre records were received at the Archive as several depositis over a period of years, there was a need to bring the records together intellectually to better aid researcher looking for as complete a picture as possible. Staff of the Faculty of Drama depostied records in a variety of ways from a few items to several boxes of mixed material.
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Created by RFROGNER 10-5-2009. Updated by RFROGNER 10-8-2010.