Vaudeville Collection inspires new generation of student research
Date: November 8, 2011
Contact: Chrystal Carpenter
Ask students in professor Carrie Cole’s “Advanced Topics in Dramaturgy” course to explain the discipline of dramaturgy and you’ll get a smile. “We had a whole class on that topic,” says Traci Sepp, a junior majoring in theatre arts. “Dramaturgy creates a bridge between the script and the performance,” explains Sepp. “As dramaturgs it’s our job to become as well-educated in the play as the playwright was.”
“Dramaturgy,” according to Cole, “provides research for research-based performances.” By stressing the use of primary resources and the importance of interdisciplinary research, Cole ensures that her students have the tools they need to successfully think as the playwright and to translate the meaning and context of a play for the benefit of the director, actors, and the audience. “You become,” as Faith Glendenning, a theatre production major, notes, “the ambassador to the text for the rest of the production team.”
Professor Cole and her dramaturgy students recently spent the afternoon in Special Collections examining the UA’s Vaudeville Collection for just that purpose. The students were tasked with building a research protocol and background story for a play the class is studying. “Personal Effects” shares the story of an itinerant man, a man who travels with his worldly possessions packed into one single trunk. As the character is written in the vaudeville tradition of traveling entertainers, Cole recognized the value of having her students spend time with the Vaudeville Collection.
Cole encourages her student to examine the research and see connections between old styles of performance, like vaudeville, and new adaptations of an old tradition. Using the collection’s finding aid students identify and select material to view during the research session. With the Vaudeville Collection, the students had a lot to choose from.
The Vaudeville Collection is one of the larger manuscript collections in Special Collections. According to Chrystal Carpenter, curator of the collection, it’s also one of the most requested and heavily used by various researchers across all disciplines.
The Vaudeville Collection came about as the result of a generous donation of major archival material by Frank Cullen and Donald McNeilly from their thriving American Vaudeville Museum, an arts and education charitable organization dedicated to the preservation of vaudeville. This museum and its curators have paved the way in the preservation and presentation of vaudeville material which is of considerable historical and cultural interest because it was the major form of American popular entertainment from the 1880s to the 1930s and its influence continues to this day on television programs such as the Jay Leno or David Letterman shows.
In addition to material from American Vaudeville Museum, Special Collections recently acquired the archive of renowned television, film and night club entertainer Jill Corey. The Corey collection contains a vast digital archive of the performer’s career: radio and TV appearances, interviews, performances, and her commercial recordings, as well as a collection of original songs written and recorded privately and other memorabilia and ephemera from her performing days.
Corey also donated all of her original scores and sheet music vocal and big band arrangements. These include original orchestrations by such luminaries as Doc Severinsen of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show, Percy Faith, jazz legend Stan Kenton, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Osser and Skitch Henderson. Some of these are arrangements used by Corey on her regular CBS television show in the later 1950s and some were featured on the Ed Sullivan Show as well as at other venues.
The Vaudeville Collection is a valuable resource for students of theater, music, film, art and other disciplines, as well as faculty and outside researchers have a chance to use these rich and diverse materials in their scholarship through Special Collections. Professor Cole notes that among similar collections, the UA’s Vaudeville Collection is “uniquely performance based” and, in the end, “that’s what gets the students so excited.”
For more information about the American Vaudeville Museum visit http://vaudeville.org.
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