Digitising the Gate Theatre Archive

In February 2016 the James Hardiman Library at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, commenced a project to digitise the significant archives of Dublin’s famous Gate Theatre. In this month’s blog post, archivist Barry Houlihan and digitisation archivists Conor Dent and Nicola Gray take us through the process and explain how the archives will be used in the future.

Programme for Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, 1932. Photo by the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

The Gate Theatre Digital Archive at NUI Galway is now fully digitised and available at the James Hardiman Library. Comprising 170,000 pages of manuscripts and printed materials, over 30,000 photos, over 600 hours of digitised video recordings and audio files, it is a vast resource for the study of one of Ireland’s leading theatres.

Founded in 1928 by Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards, the Gate Theatre offered Irish audiences a new theatrical repertoire that was highly influenced by European modernist art and theatrical production styles. The Gate has been synonymous in the modern period with the works of major Irish playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel, and Conor McPherson, as well as international playwrights some of which include Harold Pinter and the American playwright Arthur Miller. The Gate also continually ran productions of classics by playwrights such as Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

The Gate Theatre Digital Archive primarily consists of material from the contemporary period, under the artistic directorships of Michael Colgan (1983 – 2016) and Selina Cartmell (2016 – present). It includes programmes, press cuttings, photographs, correspondence, handbills, scripts, set designs and lighting designs relating to performances throughout this period both at home and abroad. The archive also contains a large volume of material pre-1983 relating to Liammóir and Edwards as well as financial and administrative records.

The digitisation of the Gate Theatre Archive was carried out by two digitisation archivists, Conor Dent and Nicola Gray, over a period of 18 months, under project management of Martin Bradley of Mastermind Ireland Ltd. The daily tasks of the digitisation team consisted of sorting through each box, identifying duplicate material so as not to be scanned twice, de-metaling and arranging material in a coherent order to be scanned. In terms of workflow and time management of the project, the team aimed to meet a monthly rate of 1.5 to 2 boxes a day.

Poster for ‘The Importance of Being Oscar’, 1964. Photo by the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

In order to ensure the capture of high standard images, a range of digitising equipment was used which included two Canon EOS 7D cameras set up on overhead tripods, two A3 flatbed archival standard scanners, a large Context scanner for oversized items such as set designs, lighting designs and posters, and a Microtek scanner which was used to scan photographic negatives and positives.

Generally individual pages which were A4 or A3 in size were scanned on the flatbed scanners, and more bulky material such as bound volumes and ledgers were captured by the overhead cameras. Each image was captured as a TIFF file at 600 DPI and edited or cropped as necessary before being converted to a PDF. Photographic negatives and positives were captured at 2400 DPI in order to ensure compliance with the archival preservation standard and give a high quality image. PDFs were converted using OCR software and all data was stored on the Amazon S3 cloud based storage system which ensured safe back up of all data created and captured by the team.

Metadata concerning the play’s characters, production dates and venues was input by the team through the digital management system Aetopia, which assigned each production with a code that correlated to the data uploaded on the Amazon S3 storage system. In turn the PDFs that were run through OCR appear on the live version interface of the Gate Theatre Archive that makes it accessible and searchable for researchers at the James Hardiman Library today.

 

Poster for Conor McPherson’s ‘The Weir’, 2008. Photo by the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

The Gate Theatre Digital Archive adds to the other digital and manuscript collections  held at the James Hardiman Library, and provides a rich resource for teaching and research on numerous undergraduate, MA and PhD courses, in partnership with the University’s O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance. The archive is also a centrepiece of the new European Gate Theatre Research Network, bringing together leading scholars and archivists from across the continent. Major conferences, exhibitions and publications will be forthcoming ensuring the place of the Gate’s history and achievements become known to audiences and researchers.

The collection is open to scholars at the James Hardiman Library and more information is available here: https://www.nuigalway.ie/gatetheatre/