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Paging Bill Gates & Microsoft:
US & British Theatre Database Needs To Be On-Line

Is the report true that Microsoft has funding for developing useful new databases?

Even if it is not, there is a very important Theatre Database that is now in limbo, instead of on-line. It is exactly the kind of information which Microsoft would be doing millions of potential users a great service by making available worldwide.

This compact reference resource is the 20th Century Chronology of American, Canadian, and British Theatre, compiled by our own Glenn Loney. When it was prepared for publication in book form, the editors were not yet computer-oriented. So, instead of being done on a computer, it was typed out on reference-cards. Because it covers a variety of important events in the theatre of this century, with citations by day, month, and year, it now consists of thousands of these cards, organized chronologically.

Although premieres of new plays have been most important when they occurred in London and New York, some outstanding ones in San Francisco, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stratford also are included.

The citations relating to Shakespeare's plays in production could themselves form a small book. As could other special subjects, such as Avant-garde Theatre, Musical Comedy, Ethnic Theatre, and Outdoor Historical Drama.

Premieres and revival citations include date, city, theatre, play title, playwright, length of run, play genre, brief plot summary, selective listing of players, designers, directors, choreographers, etc.

When a play is produced after the world-premiere in either New York or London, it has a new entry. But this information is also included in the note on the first production, with any changes of title that may have occurred in crossing the Atlantic.

In addition to this valuable information on a day-by-day basis, there are also day-month-year listings for such items as births, marriages, deaths, awards, honors, openings of new theatres, name-changes of theatres, destruction of theatres (fire, flood, demolition), theatre patents (ncluding Harry Houdini's), and advances in theatre design & technology. Also included are important debuts, labor strife and disputes, censorship issues, regional and provincial theatres, annual repertories, acting ensembles, avant-garde aovements (happenings, etc.), major critics, extracts of reviews of major productions, educational theatre, etc.

Each year in the Chronology begins with a list of major books on theatre published in America and Britain that year.

The various entries, while packed with essential information, were also written so that they would be interesting, even enjoyable, reading.

Its published title is Twentieth Century Theatre.

The theatre-buff who just decides to "dip into" this reference, to discover what was happening on Broadway in the Year of the Crash, 1929, for instance, will find a revealing cross-section of American cultural and social attitudes, as shown in plays and musicals.

Even with only a portion of the multitude of listings actually published, the resulting two-volume reference was widely praised. Among the comments:

Eric Bentley: "What riches! Amazing!"

NY Daily News: "It should prove immensely valuable . . . offering a cornucopia of exhaustively researched information. A most worthwhile endeavor."

Louis Botto/Playbill: "Anyone who loves theatre will be enchanted."

Shakespeare Bulletin: "Here is a must for every theatre buff and scholar."

Norman Nadel/Scripps-Howard: "An absolute prize . . . delightfully evocative. Information is varied and pertinent. In all respects a lovely job."

London Times: "The entries are entertaining as well as informative, the organization of the categories very useful, and the index is the final invaluable touch."

John Beaufort/Christian Science Monitor: "It is a most impressive work! Just the sort of ready reference one needs . . . All in all, invaluable."

David Brierly/General Manager/Royal Shakespeare Company: "A wealth of information . . . both as a reference work and as something to be dipped into and read for simple enjoyment."

Ernest Schier/National Critics Institute/O'Neill Center: "A nifty piece of work!"

Clive Barnes: "This is a fantastic reference book. It is written by Glenn Loney, a fascinating man who is both an academic and a critic. These two volumes are essential reading for both trivia-lovers and also real devotees of the theatre."

Barnes liked the published listings so well he wrote a long review of the book for the New York Post. Among his observations:

"Loney has somehow encapsulated, with a certain brevity but with even an occasional flash of wit, the entire panorama of the English-Speaking Theatre."

"The two books embrace the specific histories of the Broadway Theatre and London's West End. They document with precise care--Loney is a scholar's scholar--the details of the various openings in both cities, in themselves a wonderful instrument for nostalgia, but also they give a feel for the time."

"Looking through Loney's saga of our theatre--and it is a saga chronicled with obvious love--one has to understand that the theatre today actually is more lively than it was in, say, 1936."

Other leading New York critics frequently comment on how often they use Twentieth Century Theatre for reference. It has also been praised by leading reference librarians, notably Ted Slate, long Newsweek's fact-finding expert.

It is long out of print. It was, in fact, primarily published as a reference work for libraries, in a very limited run. In any case, the published version of the reference-cards represents only a fraction of the actual database. And the printed entries are themselves a drastic cutting of the originals. The reason for this is that new management changed the initial plans, which, after the three years of research Loney had completed, would have resulted in as many as six to eight volumes.

Made available for researchers on-line, this would not have proved a problem. What is more, it would have been very simple to add newly discovered facts about our theatre past all the way back to 1900. And to keep it up-to-date on a daily basis, with reports on theatre-activity constantly coming in from many cultural centers.

At one point in the publication preparations, it was decided that each year should have only 150 entries, no matter how much had happened on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1927, for instance, there were almost twice that number of premieres on Broadway alone. In 1915, on the other hand, World War I had a disastrous effect on the number of productions in London.

No updated Second Edition was forthcoming. The copyright was returned to Professor Loney. Subsequently, encouraged by Ted Slate of Newsweek and other admirers of the work, Loney offered the entire database to various colleagues and even some of his Ph. D students, if they would undertake to continue it and find a publisher or put it On-Line. No takers. Even the Library for Performing Arts at Lincoln Center refused the offer. Officials calculated that it would take the staff three years, at a cost of a million dollars, to scan and edit the thousands of cards for computer accessibility.

As Loney had already spent three years compiling the information on the reference cards, he could not undertake such a task himself. Nor did he have the computer hardware and software to do it. So this fascinating database now sits silently in trays in a basement filing-cabinet, just across the street from the Frick Art Reference Library.

The nature of professional and amateur theatre is rapidly changing, and this change needs to be chronicled onward into the future. Broadway and the West End are not what they once were. Alternative theatres and Performance Art are becoming increasingly important.

The uses of theatre have also diversified greatly in the wake of World War II: Psychodrama, Educational Theatre, Theatre in Prisons, Theatre for the Handicapped, Protest Theatre, Puppet Theatre, Dance Theatre, Opera Theatre, Children's Theatre, Grey Panther Theatre, Native American Theatre, Latino Theatre, African-American Theatre, Community Theatre, Recreational Theatre, Gay Theatre, Feminist Theatre: the list seems endless, but all deserve to be noted.

This chronology makes no attempt at the detail which is offered in many theatre reference works, most of which are devoted to specific aspects, either British or American. Seldom do they include Canadian Theatre, but the Chronology does.

The thousands of reference-cards in the Chronology provide an overview, which can lead researchers and amateurs to the myriad details of the specific sources. Once computerized, it will also be possible to print out all chronological listings for each special category of drama and theatre. Issues of theatre censorship over the past century should make an interesting chronology by itself.

After all the continuing hoopla about the international Information Highway that computerization is supposed to make possible, Glenn Loney would like to help pave at least five miles of it with 97 Years of American, British, and Canadian Theatre Events. Somebody ought to help him.

For further information, or offers of foundation funding for this project, please contact Glenn Loney care of Jonathan Slaff at New York Theatre Wire, jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com

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