The following is a project for ENG550 - Biography:
On a beautiful, mid-September afternoon, I entered Hayden Library on the campus of Arizona State University and made my way up the the Luhrs Reading Room on the 4th floor. Soon after, I met Katherine Krzys, the curator of the Child Drama Collection, a petite woman with a warm smile and intelligent eyes. I sensed instantly that she was a woman who possessed great knowledge about an incredible resource housed in the library on ASU campus, and over the course of the following interview I would find out I was right in that judgement. After settling down in her office, a small room filled with books and files, just as you would imagine for a busy archivist, Katherine began to tell me about the Child Drama Collection and all the incredible resources it consists of.
The Child Drama Collection began in 1979 after being gifted with the teaching and biographical materials of Rita Criste, a professor at Northwestern University, as well as being designated as the archival site for the Children’s Theatre Association of America. (History) Both of these collections were welcomed by Librarian Marilyn Wurzburger, Head of Special Collections, and Lin Wright, the Chair of the ASU Department of Theatre, both women recommended using these gifts to develop the Child Drama Collection in response to, “the academic needs of theatre for youth students and faculty at ASU and the research needs of the professional artists and educators throughout the world.” (History) When I decided to meet with Katherine it was with the intention of learning more about the Child Drama Collection and the individual collections that are housed within, particularly the Irene Corey Collection.
Before getting into the specifics of the collection I wanted to know more about Katherine personally. As anyone who’s familiar with archival work or museums will tell you, the curator is like a gatekeeper, a guardian of all the treasures housed within the collection they protect and guide. I was curious to know what had led her to her job as curator, and I quickly realized how serendipity can work in strange and interesting ways.
Katherine had come to ASU to pursue an MFA in Theatre for Youth. It was during her second semester as a Teaching Assistant that the Chair of the Theatre Department sent Katherine over to the library to work on what was then a brand new collection to help with some of the archival work. While doing this work Katherine says, “they found out that I had a real knack for working with archival materials, and so they sent me back again and . . . when I graduated with my MFA in Theatre for Youth . . . they said we want you to stay, and they made me a deal, and I stayed.” With a daughter still in elementary school, staying in the area and in a job she enjoyed, it was a logical decision. After a while, what had started out as a part time job, became a full time position. When asked if she felt that the job had picked her, instead of the other way around, she quickly answers, “It did, it did. It was the Chair of the Theater Department at the time. She was really good at looking at people...looking at people's talent and see how they could make a contribution to the field. And this has been my contribution and I've been here 26 years.” She also has projects outside of the archive, “I also direct outside so I keep my creative juices going. I work a lot with the MFA playwrights here on campus. Do staged readings for the Arizona Women's Theater upon occasion. So I keep busy.” Very busy indeed!
Since coming to work with the Child Drama Collection, Katherine has watched and helped the Collection to grow exponentially. She explains, “When I came, there were 150 books and there were maybe 100 linear feet of manuscripts. And today there are 8,300 books and . . . I think we’re up to somewhere around 3,600 linear feet of materials.” Of this, approximately 97% were donated to the Collection. When asked what her one or two favorite additions to the collection were Katherine is quick to answer, “Irene, definitely Irene,” indicating the Irene Corey Collection. But she also mentions a recent addition, a collection of work from Lowell and Nancy Swortzell, who started the Educational Theatre program at NYU. Katherine also can’t resist mentioning the Jonathan Levy Collection, but considering it’s a collection with research that dates back to the 17th century and that it took her fourteen years to convince Mr. Levy to donate it to ASU, I can understand it being in her top three of her favorite collections within the Child Drama Collection.
Within the Collection are individual items such as play scripts, international items, ephemera collections (collections created from small donations organized by subject), periodicals, as well as several larger collections, such as the Jonathan Levy Collection which included his library of over 600 books dating from the 17-20th century. Also included is the afore mentioned Irene Corey Collection. As a costume designer myself it was this collection that first grabbed my attention when researching the Child Drama Collection.
Irene Corey was a theatrical designer, specializing in costume and makeup design whose work continues to inspire designers today. She received the USITT Award for 2007, the highest honor given by the USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) for recognition of a lifetime of contribution to the performing arts. Katherine explains, “when they were presenting this to her, they said we would not have seen Cats, or Lion King on broadway without her additional makeup and costume work with animals. And Julie Taymor has credited her with being an influence.” She continues to explain Corey’s work was also significant in that, “she worked on a small budget and she showed that you can use fabric and use materials that aren't expensive to create really ingenious ways of making your designs work on stage.”
The Irene Corey Collection came to the museum in the 1990s, when ASU agreed to mount an exhibit of Corey’s work if she would donate the items. Katherine says,“I was very lucky that she decided to give us the collection at a time when she was doing some renovation. And so she wanted to get rid of everything. So I went to her house . . . she had decided she wasn’t going to design for the stage anymore . . . she decided that she wanted to paint. And she had a lovely garden in Dallas, and she was going to turn her studio into some place where she could paint, and store, and frame. She did a lot of her own framing. And I noticed there was a crawlspace, and she said, ‘Oh yes, all my costumes from The Tempest are there.’ And when I opened, the little, I think it was just like a piece of plywood that was pulled, [and] I could smell the mustiness. So it was by very good fortune that I was able to retrieve all of them. I went to her house several times, we looked at everything. We found things in strange places, and we decided what we wanted to put in the exhibit and I think we ended up with 75 items, 2 costumes and mannequins. It was a retrospective and it was really quite magnificent. It was really about her processes. It covered both costume, makeup and set design.”
In addition to the costumes and renderings, Corey also donated her collection of books, many of them with notes tucked inside. Since Corey’s passing in 2010, the Irene Corey Memorial Fund has been established to assist in the digitization of her personal papers. Katherine elaborates, “we're still in the process of molding that, because we just recently got the money for it. Basically her estate wanted to make her work available and knew that the only way we could digitize her slides was with outside funding. So, I met with our IT department and talked to their specialists. The library is also starting a new platform to put unique collections, so they were very happy to kind of experiment with this project. So we are just now setting it up. Basically we'll scan the slides. Built into the grant is to get a graduate student to do the metadata for it, then put it on a platform to make it accessible to everyone. When she gave us the collection, she also gave us the rights to it. So that's something very important in the whole digitation process or we couldn't make it available. I mean, other than here [ASU]. They could look at it, but it ends there.” Katherine admits she would like to see the digitization go further one day, “It would be wonderful to have everything scanned not just her slides but also take pictures of her costumes, to put her costumes on a mannequin or a person. To take photos of them from various angles. I'm sure you've seen art or museum websites, where you can look at something and then walk around it or above it. They do that with a lot of greek and roman art I've seen some on websites. I don't know if I'll be around long enough to see that.”
ASU is fortunate that everything within the Child Drama Collection is housed inside Hayden Library, not an easy feat these days with some items taking up large amounts of space and a collection that grows rapidly. Katherine also works hard to ensure that all items donated to the Collection meet the criteria. As tempting as it would be to accept everything, it simply isn’t feasible. She explains that they’ll look at “anyone's archive that has received a national award, from either the Children's Theatre Educational Society or from the Professional Theatre Association. . . And also, we try to collect comprehensively in Arizona.” Once processed into the Collection, items are placed into size appropriate boxes or drawers and stored carefully inside the archive. They are also careful to protect everything with tissue, and in regards to the costume and textile items, they ensure that no two pieces of fabric touch each other. Such care and attention is both to preserve the items as well as to show them to classes. The Irene Corey Collection, is a good example because Corey stated from the beginning that she wanted the collection to be usable. At the time of my interview, Katherine was preparing to show many pieces from the Irene Corey Collection to the Intro to Costume Design course in the Theatre Department. Such valuable tools for instruction need to be preserved so that students can continue to enjoy and learn from them, year after year. Katherine works very closely with the preservation department to ensure that happens.
When asked what the biggest challenges in terms of preservation and conservation Katherine explains, “The biggest challenge today is dealing with things that are digitally born or born digital. When you are archiving something like a theater company, a majority of what they are doing is posted on the web. And no one is taking a snapshot of it, you have to have a server to put it on and you have to think about what technology is going to be around long enough and safe enough to ensure that we'll be able to convert it at some point or keep it stable. One of the other big challenges is taking in a collection that has any audio or visual in it. If it's not professionally done, there's no copyright, we don't own the copyright. They usually didn't make anyone sign a permission before things were filmed. So number one, transferring it to some kind of usable or viewable media, but the second thing is providing the metadata on line so people can find it. Sometimes it's just really hard to even describe it. I will get a lot of things in that are totally undocumented. And I’ll watch them, but we’ll do a very general description. And we're getting at a point in the field where a lot of the people who were instrumental in getting the field recognized as a professional field and as good as adult theater, they are passing away. So a lot of that collective memory is going with it.”
I then asked Katherine if there were any items she was interested in obtaining for the Collection as well as where she would like to see the Collection go in the future. She explains, “Well, I have a collection that I surveyed in Seattle 3 years ago, that I have been trying to raise $43,000 to bring here. Our collection is very good for playwrights and theater companies and professors, but not so good in documenting people that do what you used to call creative drama, which is now more improvisational theater. So it's more what is done in the classroom or after school or at a youth theater that is not product oriented but is process oriented, so how can the child learn more about themselves by doing drama, etc. . . I would really like to document a couple of really good high school teachers.” She continues, explaining that lately the problem isn’t necessarily acquiring things but processing them and that her focus now, “has been to not do collection development in the last couple years but to process and make the finding aids available. I had a grant two years ago from NHPRC [National Historical Publications and Records Commission] that we're just working to finish it up and it was to minimally process collections.” This illustrates some of the challenges she faces today and how the archivists job has changed. She explains further, “when you think of archivists in the old days, the archivist was a person in the back room, doing the processing, doing the contacts. Now, archives are all about writing grants, raising money, endowing.”
Public interest is also vital to the continued success of the Child Drama Collection. Katherine explains, “Being part of ASU library, we exist to support the curriculum and research going on in this campus, but as an archive, we also are ethically bound and we also owe to the donors to make the material to be accessible to anyone around the world. . . I guess the biggest thing they are finding with archives is to put the finding aids online. I'm also working with our outreach department here in the library to do a Facebook page, the way we are framing our Facebook page we’ll have something every couple of weeks to feature something new. I also present a lot of conferences, I do a lot of PowerPoints, to get people excited, about the possibilities for doing research.”
At the end of the interview, Katherine was kind enough to walk me down to the special collections room where the archive is and showed me some of the books and pictures of Irene Corey’s work that she had begun to pull for the presentation she will be giving to the Intro to Costume Design students. As I looked at all of the items I was struck by how truly fortunate the design and design history students at ASU are to have such easy access to such a valuable resource and as I left the library I was already crafting research projects that would give me the opportunity to take advantage of this incredible collection.
To access or view items within the archive you can search the online database, found within the ASU Libraries Catalogue. Once you’ve found the item or items you would like to look at mark down the call number and go up the the Luhrs Reading Room on the 4th floor of the Hayden Library. You’ll fill out a form with the call number, tell them the item you’re interested in is from Special Collections, and just a couple words from the title to help make the pull a little easier. The librarian will then go down to the 2nd floor where the archive is and pull the item and then bring it back up to the reading room for you to examine. Katherine suggests that if you want to look at multiple items it might be best to fill out the forms in advance, drop them off and let them know you’ll be back later.
"History." ASU Libraries: Child Drama Collection. Arizona State University. Web. 4 Sept. 2011.
Krzys, Katherine. "Child Drama Collection." Personal interview. 15 Sept. 2011.