Camille LeFevre on teaching and writing arts journalism

Of Programs and Archives

After a theater performance recently, as the applause died down and we began collecting our belongings, a friend who had accompanied me said, “Are you recycling your program? Oh, that’s right: You always keep your programs because you’re a critic.” Which led me to thinking. Why do I keep the paper programs from the theater, dance, opera, music and other performances I attend?

Sure, they’re a necessary reference while crafting a review, particularly for the names of the costume or lighting designers, the music list, or an obscure but helpful bit of bio. But I also keep programs from performances not reviewed. And things are getting a bit out of hand.

Scattered around the basement are bulging envelopes bursting with programs from years, even decades past. In the wood file cabinet next to my desk, the half a drawer allocated to programs is overflowing with paper; sometimes bits of programs even migrate to other drawers…yes, it’s a mess.

“But I might need to reference a program someday,” is my plaintive response to my own question: Why are you keeping this stuff? So until performance companies start downloading their programs to my iPhone as soon as my tickets are confirmed (is anyone doing this yet? Hint, hint), I’m going to continue keeping my programs and stuffing them into drawers.

Unless, of course, I get organized and donate all the old programs and press kits, along with the thousands of reviews, previews, features, news items articles and other articles I’ve written, to the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota.

The archives, which are located in the Andersen Library next to the law school on the West Bank, came to my attention in 2009 as I was writing an article on the exhibition, “Houlton’s Legacy: The Magic of Dance,” on view in the Anderson Library Gallery. The exhibition was created from material on Minnesota Dance Theater—photographs, costumes, articles, founder Loyce Houlton’s drafts of her autobiography; much of it rescued from a dumpster and given to the archives for safe keeping.

I met with then-curator Deborah Ultan Boudewyns, who asked me to look through the archived material and help identify people, places and dance works. Houlton’s era was before my time (although I remember her firing and MDT’s short-lived merger with Pacific Northwest Ballet), so I could only provide the name of a rehearsal space in one photograph and the title of a dance work in another.

Nonetheless, as Boudewyns and I worked carefully through piles of fragile materials, I marveled at how bits and pieces of a creative life could spark recognition and conjure memory. During the opening reception for the exhibition a few weeks later, Gary Peterson (now executive director of the Southern Theater) whispered that I really needed to gather all of my materials together—which would, in effect, provide a historical perspective on the past 20 years of dance in the Twin Cities—and that he was going to begin bothering me to ensure I did so.

Well…still not done. Sorry, Gary. But the archives of New Dance Ensemble (the Merce Cunningham-inspired company, co-founded by Linda Shapiro and Leigh Dillard in the 1990s, on which I cut my teeth as a critic), have been submitted. Materials from James Sewell Ballet and JAZZDANCE by Danny Buraczeski are in the archives, as well as the papers of Gertrude Lippincott (a choreographer and dance educator).

The archive also includes materials from the Guthrie Theater and At the Foot of the Mountain; and the papers of theater director, writer, and administrator Robert Corrigan, and of playwright Frederick Gaines. The Minnesota Orchestra and various scenic backdrops are also part of the archives, along with film posters.

So, what’s holding me back? My reluctance to just dump boxes of musty, mildew-y paper on the gracious, diligent staff of the archives: I really should organize it all first. And the fact that, well, I’m not done yet. Who knows what I’ll be doing, writing about, reviewing, editing in the next 20 years.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pull your archives together and submit them. The staff at the Performing Arts Archives would love to hear from you.


March 6, 2011 Posted by | Miscellany | , , , | 2 Comments