Last month, I spent a few days in the Child Drama Archives at Arizona State University, arguably the largest archives in the field, certainly in terms of material from US researchers and practitioners in the field of theatre and drama with, by, and for children http://libguides.asu.edu/childdramacoll.
I was looking for archival material on Natalia Stats: correspondence, notes, mentions about her and her work. Katherine Krzys, the curator, had pulled three carts of boxes with, among other materials, correspondence from Gerald Tyler, Nat Eek, and Ann Shaw. And although I knew these names of course, two worlds collided: my narrow focus on Natalia Sats’s life and work and the history of ASSITEJ, from its founding in 1965 until the mid 1990s.
The documents tell a story of cold war rhetoric, of intrigues, and of firm opinions on the aesthetics and the humanitarian mission of ASSITEJ. A story of fixed elections, “shenanigans,” politics behind the a-political nature of ASSITEJ. A story of ASSITEJ World Festival audiences behaving as tourists versus professionals. A story of the big controversy at the Moscow Congress and Festival in 1984. All this, documented on paper, filed away.
As I was going through the materials I realized again how important the role of the historiographer is and how much the narrative she or he constructs depends on archived material, on what exactly is preserved and what not, and on what the motivation, ideological position, and notions of change of the historian are. The ASSITEJ books are clearly written from a specific US perspective. But what is the contra-narrative? Could the archives in Berlin and Frankfurt shed light on this? Do we need another history?
Another realization was that we will not have the same kind of documentation in the next 50 years of ASSITEJ. Not because there will be no intrigues, controversies, and behind closed doors conversations, but because it is less likely to be preserved in he same way, except for the minutes. Emails do not live long and are generally not archived. Personal notebooks, and diaries are getting rare. We communicate through messages and images, they pop up, we react, they disappears. We do not need written correspondence that could take weeks to arrive because we can instantly talk to the other side of the world through facetime and skype. How, then, will we document our history? And what does this do to the narrative?
This brings me to ITYARN, the International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Network. This year is an anniversary for ITYARN, its 10th year anniversary. When we came together in Kristiansand in October 2006, seven research-practitioners from six different countries we merely explored, what is the status of research in the field of TYA in our respective countries and do we need research in the field? “Yes” we decided and ten years later ITYARN has become an integral part of ASSITEJ with representation at the yearly meetings and beyond, with publications and with ASSITEJ EC board representation. ITYARN cares about historical research and much more: ITYARN “. . . contributes to culture and knowledge by providing new insights and perspectives on the history, theory, practice, and perception of theatre and performance for children and youth, from theatre for babies to theatre for young adults” (ityarn.org).
Our history is important and we need to cherish it. Our history is interwoven with who we are now and what we will be in the future. Years ago, one of my students shared this Ghanaian proverb with me: “Our ancestors hold us on their shoulders so that we can see into the future–we dare not look down on them for their lack of foresight.” The Child Drama Archive at Arizona State University, the ASSITEJ archives in Berlin and Frankfurt attest to where we came from and where we are going. Our practice is by nature ephemeral. But the documentation will stay and live to tell the story.