March 2011

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March 2011

The Last Word:

Creating The Marna King Theater Collection

One of the many images preserved in the Marna King Theater Collection – Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Act 1, scene 1: King Leontes, Polixenes and Queen Hermione.

by Marna King

Marna King reflects on her experiences collecting images and impressions in the late twentieth century which now form the basis of The Marna King Theater Collection.

Members who attended USITT Annual Conferences between the years 1984 to 1991 may have attended sessions in which I reported on plays I had seen in Germany that used the associational theatre aesthetic then prevalent in prominent West German state and city theatres. These eye witness accounts were accompanied by slides of photographs taken by the theatre photographer of each particular play. The presentation was a walk-through of each production demonstrating the strategies and techniques used to communicate to the audience. Every element of the production – script, actor, staging, and the production's individual designers – had a separate voice in this collaged, montaged format.

From 1981 through 2000, I witnessed, studied, and collected primary materials of each production I thought valuable to record – 155 such files from the former Federal Republic of Germany and 85 files from the former East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall from 1990-2000. I used this material to influence my own costume designs and those of my students, and to reach American theatre practitioners through presentations and articles. When I retired in 2002, I converted my working files into the Marna King Theater Collection which I donated in 2006 to the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. The collection resides in its Arkiv Darstellende Kunst [Performing Arts]. It has recently been made available to anyone wishing to view or work with its contents.

What types of plays can be found in the collection? German theatre artists and audiences have a keen interest in plays that span all ages and all countries. For the most part, I selected dramas which American theatre professionals and students might know or could easily reference.

Would the collection be of value to scholars and theatre practitioners who know little or no German? Yes, the collection is easily accessible to those not fluent in German. The I.D cards, which record the type and amount of material included in each file, are in English as well as observations, comments, notations, and informal interviews. The more than 1,000 photos taken by theatre photographers during final rehearsals speak for themselves.

I've identified each photo by play, scene/act, and character. In addition, I've included selected writings of my own which contain copies of the photos used to illustrate them. Be prepared to stay a while. The collection weighed over 400 pounds when shipped to the Akademie. Also included in the collection are 215 files from West Germany for the years 1968-1980 that I researched to better understand the origins of this aesthetic movement.

A more formal announcement will be distributed during the Charlotte 2011 Conference & Stage Expo at the Costume Design & Technology and Scene Design & Technology Commission meetings and at the general information table in the PQ Exhibition Hall. It will contain information about how to contact the Akademie der Künste archive and the website which will contain the annotated Table of Contents for the collection.

Brecht's Baal: Baal