I Smell of Archives; or, How Many Programs Do You Keep?

 You might say I am a recovering packrat.

When I was very young, I had a zoo of stuffed animals. I liked to say I had a menagerie of 100, but I am sure this is a bit of an exaggeration. But I had a lot. Meanwhile, I kept little odds and ends I would find or buy with my allowance at garage sales. I built little installations on top of my dresser and bookcases, each element in conversation with another: a well-worn book of sonnets (procured only for the smell of old paper) under a matchbook. The dragon I made in 7th grade art class next to the stick I whittled when we were in Boston for my Nana’s funeral. It all tells a convoluted story I have probably half-forgotten.

I also collected bags. Not good bags. Plastic bags. But not just any plastic bags: plastic bags with nifty logos or from exotic places. Like South Carolina. This collection has since been recycled.

Each move—first to the dorms, then to five college / grad school apartments (one of which I lived in all of three weeks), then Chicago, San Francisco, and most recently Berkeley—beat a little more of the packrat out of me, but I would still go through fits of wanting to collect. I went through a book phase, a DVD phase, a board game phase, and a comic book phase. I still struggle daily against my addiction to blank books. (Stop your siren song, Moleskine!)

Today I spent 4 hours in our dirty dark and dusty basement archives going through past Words on Plays and production programs in an attempt to establish some consistency and organization. The archives are under our theater, which is four blocks away from our offices, rehearsal rooms, and school, and it has been a bit of a puzzle how many study guides and programs we should be keeping in this age  of digital files. Eventually, as I think I’ve said, I want to put Words on Plays in college classrooms as a companion text, so I am not recycling any of those for the time being. But how many to save for posterity? And how many to bring back to store in the office filing cabinet until that fateful day when the chair of a theater department calls to say, yes indeed, s/he would LOVE 50 copies of our Hedda Gabler Words on Plays (Volume xii, No. 4) to be ready and waiting in the campus bookstore for the fall semester.

By i_m_not_here (Flickr)

From i_m_not_here's photostream (Flickr)

Programs are another animal altogether. We had been keeping a box of 100 for each show. That’s a bit excessive isn’t it? I reduced it to 50. (Additionally, we’ll still have plenty around the office for easy reference.) But what if 50 different collectors all call me some Tuesday in July, long after the recycling truck has taken away the discarded booty? How sad their hearts will be when I must turn them away empty handed! What if we decide we want to wallpaper the entire theater with program covers! What if development wants to give out commemorative binders of past programs to our top donors!

The more imagination you have, the more vulnerable you are to this twittering that is always in the packrat’s ear: you might need that When, you might need that When, you might need that When. And when When comes you might be ready, but meanwhile your collected collects dust and your closets feel close with clutter. Then again, we do have a whole basement archive with a few shelves still empty . . .

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