This September, I initiated a project of listing digital humanities projects of interest to/within the field of performing arts, a first step on the way towards my second comprehensive exams in my Ph.D. program at The Graduate Center, CUNY, where I am planning on doing one of my three fields on digital humanities in the performing arts. In the long run, I am intending on creating a non-traditional, potentially digital born dissertation about male bodies on the 20th and 21st century burlesque stages of New York City. By listing these projects, I am intending on getting some inspiration and more extensive knowledge of previous work that has been done, and finding my own voice in that flow of intellectual work.
My first (public) step in attempting to list such projects was to send this tweet into the universe:
— Kalle Westerling (@kallewesterling) September 28, 2014
Before tweeting, of course, I had done some research myself, and the list below is by no means a comprehensive list (yet!) but I am still working on the list and will keep updating it as I am finding more interesting projects to write about.
It’s an open question, I think, the way certain subjects or disciplines fit within the larger project of Digital Humanities. I am only now learning what “digital humanities” can refer to (and also how I have been involved in projects like this all along). One of my favorite questions were posed in 2012 on Twitter:
— Mike Jones (@mikejonesmelb) April 2, 2012
The question of how performing arts can fit into the discourse of digital humanities seem to be a fairly new one. Here are some links that I have found useful to find conversations about digital humanities and performing arts online:
- IFTR now has a working group focusing specifically on the “kinds of questions we can ask about theatre and performance.” They also have a WordPress site.
- In June 2013, the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY organized the first THATCamp specifically on performing arts (as far as I know), which focused more specifically the presentation and archiving of performance today.
List of Some Interesting DH Projects in the Performing Arts
A database where users can search “the Minstrelsy Database” which features information on the individuals and troupes who toured Britain between 1842 and 1852 in what became known as “minstrel shows,” where individual entertainers appearing in blackface make-up performed together on stage. The site also features some antiquarian cartography, plotting locations of minstrelsy-related venues in seven cities visited by blackface performers during these the years: Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool, London, Newcastla, Nottingham, and Sheffield. The site seems to be under development, but has not been updated since 2005. Thanks to @lauraemacdonald for linking me to the project.
An open-access archive of Shakespeare performances around the world, offering great resources for anyone teaching Shakespeare to undergraduate and graduate students, and who are interested in illustrating how Shakespeare’s work is understood, interpreted, and performed in a global context. It has many videos of individual scenes from productions, complete with full plot summaries, information on the production teams, and easy navigation to related videos similar to the one you are watching. Global Shakespeares also features some microsites, such as Shakespeare Performance in Asia, which seems to not have been updated since May 2013 (when it had technical difficulties).
A project, initiated by the American Society for Theatre Research attempting to support theatre artists in their attempts to archive records of their work. The database is open-access, and the website also features some great resources for artists as well as archivists.
A digital archive devoted to digital materials surrounding musical theatre, based at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. Currently, it seems that the website is still under development, and the only musical accessible is Glory Days. The archive has the possibility of annotating text (potentially together with other scholars?) and listening to songs alongside with the reading of librettos. Thanks to @dougreside (project director) for linking me to the project.
Ensemble is a website where users are able to assist the Billy Rose Theatre Division at the New York Public Library in the effort of transcribing historical theatre programs. It has a clear structure, and guides the user to transcribe each bit of the program into the correct categories, to build a database which presumably will be accessible to scholars and students in the future as well (?). Thanks to @dougreside (project curator) for linking me to the project.
Libretto is an open-source, reader which makes the user able to read musicals on Android devices, and, when available, hear music or see sheet music for the musical. The app currently comes bundled with a draft of the 1866 musical, The Black Crook with book by Charles M. Barras, and music and songs that were primarily adaptations for the musical. The app can be downloaded from Google Play. Thanks to @dougreside for linking me to the project.
Harvard University (Derek Miller, Assistant Professor of English). Will feature map of Broadway shows as the open and close in the 1940s; database with details of performance history; data about other theatrical fields, for instance London. Thanks to @DerekKMiller for linking me to the project.
A great example on how to use blogging/website design as part of teaching theatre/dramaturgy in higher education. Thanks to Jules Odendahl-James for creating this site.
An open-access database committed to archiving original materials and scholarship on the history Cuban theater, by filming live performance, digitizing existing theatre on tape, and preserving physical materials. They encourage participation by the community of theatre artists, patrons, academics, students, and other volunteers in the contribution of archival materials.
Drama in the Delta is a 3D game environment, created by a team directed by Emily Roxworthy, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance. The user is able to choose one of many different avatars, in order to explore different outcomes of Roosevelt’s decision to imprison 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps in 1942.
3D models have opened up new ways of exploring stories and histories of theatres that are long gone. This project is an example of the attempt to create a digital model of Dublin’s original Abbey Theatre, as it looked on its opening night. The model was created in 2011.
The Simulated Environment for Theatre (SET) is another example of a 3D environment, developed by a multidisciplinary team, in which the user can create a model of a stage, see an actor’s or dancer’s movement in space, along with spoken lines, etc. An academic paper about the SET visualizations, “Visualizing Theatrical Text: From Watching the Script to the Simulated Environment for Theatre,” can be found in Digital Humanities Quarterly.
One of the few projects on this list which is an actual performance, instead of using DH technology for teaching/research/thinking about performance. The visitors controls the performance with the help of motion capture technology and input from handheld controls.
A project that came out of the research project Performing China on the Global Stage at University of Leeds, aimed at reinvigorating Chinese theatre and simultaneously address the lack of electronic resources, such as “recorded performances, bilingual English and Chinese annotations of recordings, contextual information about Chinese theatre and critical analysis.” The website features video, written material, biographies, and bibliographies, images, and much more.
A project attempting to adopt digital humanities tools and methodologies in order to study and preserve Yiddish theater, run by Debra Caplan, Assistant Professor at Baruch College. Their website is still under construction, but the project is available via Twitter.
Website constructed by Pratt MFA student Matthew Miller, using Gephi modeling/quantitative network analysis to “study the development of artistic movements and mediums.” The website has a specific focus on the Fluxus movement, but the method would be applicable to many projects beyond that movement.
With recent mass-migrations from Facebook over the heated debate around the company’s name policy, there have been strides to create new safe spaces for queer lives and art forms online, among them drag performance. The Brooklyn Drag Archive is an attempt to archive and conserve performance content from this specific culture, an “online space that’s hospitable to drag and created by drag performers and their admirers.”
Timeline of DH in the Performing Arts