Sean Dolan is a student in the MLIS and IAKM programs at Kent State University. He possess a BA in History from Cleveland State and a great deal of respect for the events of the past and what they can teach us. He is completing this Cain Park Theatre digital web exhibit on the Cleveland Memory Project as a Practicum under the instruction of Preserve Posterity.
As difficult as it was for me to narrow down the focus and scope of the Cleveland Memory Project exhibit for Cain Park Theatre, selecting which objects to digitize for the site has proved almost as challenging. This is my first experience working on a large archival project, so I have no basis for comparison, but I suspect that not every collection of materials is as expansive as what has been preserved from Cain Park over the decades. Even by narrowing my focus to the “Halcyon Years” of the historic Theatre, the amount of material to sift through still included over a half dozen boxes of documents and clippings, over eighty programs from individual productions, and hundreds of photographs and slides. Consulting Pursue Posterity Project Manager Calvin Rydbom confirmed my instinct that a web exhibit should be highly visual in nature, so I plan to include the majority of photographs and slides that my predecessor Emily Smith has already scanned. There are a lot of high quality pictures of plays as they were being performed, as well as rehearsal and “behind the scenes” shots of the casts and crews. In an era when cameras were not nearly as cheap, portable, or ubiquitous as they are now in our always connected, social media-oriented society, these are very precious artifacts. This was the easiest decision to make regarding content for the web exhibit.
I also decided early on that I wanted to accomplish more than showcasing how prolific Cain Park Theatre was in its early days and providing a visual record of all the great times that were had there. In addition to these goals, I also have in mind providing a useful resource for the actors that played on the stage of Cain Park's amphitheater, as well as their children, grandchildren, and other descendants. To accomplish this will mean entering in a lot more metadata into the content management software, but the end result will allow users to not just browse through digitized programs, but search the cast listings for their own names or those of their family members. The nature of Cain Park, by many accounts the country's first municipally run outdoor community theater, seems to demand this type of treatment. Although there were several famous names in theater that graced the stage over the years, the majority of those who took part in the productions at Cain Park were amateurs. Many either had strong ties to Cleveland Heights to begin with or developed them after spending several summers working and studying here. So, I guess deciding to digitize all eighty of the programs from 1938 to 1950 (and make the cast lists searchable) wasn't really all that difficult either. It just required a commitment on my part to doing more work to achieve a more meaningful result.
The documents have been a different story entirely. It appears that nearly every record kept and piece of correspondence generated during the daily operations of Cain Park, at least during this early period, was boxed up and stored away for safekeeping. These documents range from the mundane to the historic. There are annual reports, budgets, records of ticket and refreshment sales, list after list of committees and their members, and class rosters from the Children's School of Theatre. There are invoices and receipts for everything from makeup to stage light bulbs to sheet music and costumes. There are letters from students seeking to join the cast or crew of the Theatre for the summer, letters from young men and women seeking to teach drama or dance classes, and letters to and from Doc Evans (founder and director of the Theatre during this period) regarding every possible detail of running a “little theatre”.
Some of these correspondences are simply amusing, others are quite interesting as conflicts and controversies arose over rights to perform certain plays, royalties due, artistic liberties taken with original works, and whether hiring additional guild actors during busy seasons would designate Cain Park a “professional” theatre. World War II brought more poignant letters as young men who had worked with the theatre went overseas to fight and the directorship struggled to define the proper role of a community theatre in wartime. At one point, the Office of War Information contacted the Theatre about staging a play to tell the story of the Jack & Heintz plants, where airplane parts were made during the war. With so many different types of documents to choose from, but limited time and resources to digitize, add metadata, and upload them all to the Cleveland Memory Project web exhibit, it has been quite a challenge to decide what “makes the cut” and what doesn't. I have tried to select some items which simply represent the joys and challenges of the daily operations of a community theatre, but I have also endeavored to highlight the most interesting personalities and situations. Of course, the items from the World War II era will be especially prevalent because this is such a significant period in our nation's history, one of almost universal interest to those who will be visiting the web exhibit. This brings me to the next stage of the project: uploading all of the objects, now numbering in the several hundred, to the Cleveland Memory Project site. I look forward to learning to use the content management software, working to add all the necessary metadata to make the site usable, and ultimately producing a page that will tell the story of Cain Park Theatre's glory days.