NUI Galway to Digitise the Archive of the Gate Theatre

Patrick Lonergan, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at NUI Galway; Lorna Quinn, Actress; Michael Colgan, Director of the Gate Theatre; Dr Jim Browne, NUI Galway President.
May 12 2016 Posted: 12:13 IST

Project to have transformative impact on Irish Theatre Research and will preserve the Gate’s archive for future generations 

NUI Galway and the Gate Theatre today (Thursday, 12 May) announced that they are joining forces to digitise the Gate’s archive, a major resource for theatre scholars and artists.

When completed in 2018, the Gate Theatre Digital Archive will be exclusively available at NUI Galway’s James Hardiman Library, where users will be able to access hundreds of videos, scripts, show programmes, and many more treasures from the Gate’s history. 

Michael Colgan, Director of the Gate Theatre, stated: “The Gate Theatre is full of admiration for NUI Galway and we congratulate them for having the vision and courage to provide this extraordinary resource for generations to come. Long may their work continue and long may it be supported.”

Founded in 1928 by Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir, the Gate Theatre has played a leading role in the production of Irish and international theatre, launching the careers of such actors as Orson Welles and Michael Gambon, staging the premieres of major plays like Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come! and presenting major international festivals dedicated to the Nobel laureates Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter – among many other major achievements.

The Gate Theatre’s archive is drawn mainly from the years since 1980, and includes information about many of the Gate’s major national and international successes during that period. The Gate has a long tradition of working with some of the world’s great actors; the archive features material relating to Orson Welles, Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Penelope Wilton, Stephen Rea, Ian Holm, Liam Neeson, Charles Dance, and many others. As a multimedia archive, this resource demonstrates the Gate’s enormous contribution not only to the art of playwriting but also to acting, design, direction and production.

Patrick Lonergan, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at NUI Galway, stated that the Gate Theatre project will have a transformative impact on Irish theatre research. “The Gate is one of the major European theatres, and has played an enormous role in the development of our theatrical culture, especially in the areas of design, direction and acting, but also in playwriting, as shown by its long association with Brian Friel. This archive will allow NUI Galway researchers and students to learn from these achievements and, we hope, to build on them into the future as well.” 

NUI Galway is the home to numerous Irish theatre archives, all of which are stored in custom-built facilities at the University’s James Hardiman Library. These include the archives of Druid Theatre, the Lyric Players Theatre, Thomas Kilroy, John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy and Siobhán McKenna, as well as online access to the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive. These resources make available almost 1,000 videos of Irish theatre productions since the 1980s and thousands of scripts, photographs and other files. Archival material from prior to that period is currently stored at Northwestern University, Illinois.

To mark this exciting project with the Gate, NUI Galway is announcing the establishment of a new MA in Irish Theatre History and Archives. Students on this course will have full access to resources like the Gate Theatre Digital Archive, and will get hands-on training in the use of theatre archives, including internships.

Professor Lonergan added that the digitisation process will preserve the Gate’s archive for future generations. “Digitisation allows us to use archival material in new ways, to search through it quickly, to cross-reference it, and so on. But crucially it also protects the Gate’s material, ensuring that this national treasure will be available in Ireland for future generations.”

John Cox, University Librarian at the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway, said: “By connecting the Gate collection to its existing archival material on the Abbey, Druid and other theatres, NUI Galway’s status as the leading international centre for the study of Irish theatre will be further enhanced. The University will also have access to an extraordinarily large dataset for several major Irish cultural institutions, opening up opportunities for new research through text and data mining.”

The digitisation of the Gate Theatre archive commenced on February 1, 2016 at the James Hardiman Library. Digitisation will take 18 months. The project will encompass 200,000 pages, 20,000 images, 150 hours of audio and 750 hours of video, representing a comprehensive archive of material since 1983. The digital archive will be available for use in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room at NUI Galway.

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