The Taming of the Mess: One Year on the Archive

5 minutes read
Masthead Image
Masthead Image

Over a year ago, the C42 Archive of Singapore Theatre was announced with the article “Bless this Mess: a vision for an archive on Singapore theatre”. We were frank about the frustrating and messy process of developing the Archive, but we powered through and finally publicly launched the Archive last year on 11 January 2022, alongside the reveal of a revamped C42 website. Since then, our efforts have been focused on growing this record of Singapore’s theatre history, all the while making information accessible and navigable.

Feeding the Mess

As it stands now, the C42 Archive of Singapore Theatre holds a few thousand entries for users to look through, from listings of productions, to collaterals attached to them, to listings of individual artist profiles and more. Every single entry is populated manually onto the Archive by the entire team at Centre 42, with occasional revisits to correct or update single entries or a whole set of entries.

To manage the entire collection of over a few thousand entries is a gargantuan task, to say the least. At launch, we featured information of past productions from the following sixteen theatre companies and organisations:

Theatre Companies on the Archive at Launch

We shouted out about our partners on the Archive in our Instagram post during the launch as well.

This collection that was migrated from our previous digital theatre archive, The Repository, formed the base with which we tested the connections and capabilities we had envisioned for the revamped Archive. We linked collaterals such as programmes and brochures to their respective listings of shows, and from these listing of shows we also linked to profiles of people who were credited in the making of the shows. If there were any, we linked up further references such as reviews and publications to the listings of shows.

Even so, our work had only just begun. While the Archive has been launched, we have only captured information and productions from more established theatre companies with longer history. There were other sections of our Singapore theatre landscape that we have not yet begun to capture, such as non-English theatre productions, productions from defunct theatre groups, or productions from more recent independent theatre collectives. To create an Archive that reflects both the past and the present landscape of Singapore’s theatre, we decided to approach currently active theatre collectives to document their body of work on our Archive.

Hence, over the course of last year, we managed to document these twelve independent theatre collectives and platforms and their works:

Theatre Collectives and Organisations Added to the Archive in 2022

We announced the addition of these collectives and platforms on the Archive on our Instagram page in this post and this post as well.

On top of adding materials from more recent times, our team of Archivists have also worked through our unprocessed collection of physical programmes and brochures. We have been amassing this collection of physical artefacts from various theatre practitioners, such as scripts, photographs and publications, with the intention of systematically documenting information of past productions from these collaterals. Through these collaterals we could sift out information on many theatre companies, such as Asia-in-Theatre Research Centre and Action Theatre, adding them to the growing database of information on Singapore’s theatre history on the Archive.

Wrangling the Mess

In working towards the goal of presenting the rich complexity and connections throughout our theatre history, we had to grapple with stringing together the materials to present an accessible interface for the Archive. Each entry on the archive is manually checked, populated, and updated when necessary. In porting over from the Repository to the Archive, we were not merely reuploading files from our previous website, but we were also actively scouring the materials for information such as synopsis and production credits. We tagged these information to their respective works to present a fuller picture of the data. 

But, unlike most other forms of data entry, populating the Archive with materials is far from an exact science. Anyone who has worked on the Archive can tell you that there are so many unique cases and exceptions to the norm. This certainly reflects the fluid and dynamic art form that theatre is. We have had to make many judgement calls, from minor ones such as renaming the role for someone who is credited with “Lighting” as a “Lighting Designer”, to major debates on whether a show should be considered a piece of theatre or not to be included in the C42 Archive of Singapore Theatre. To make these judgement calls, we followed a set of criteria that we laid down for the purposes of making these decisions. For example, we decided that if it was unclear whether a performance can be considered a theatre show or not, we would still proceed to list it on the Archive if the producing company is established to be a theatre company. These criteria and decision making processes are documented in a growing manual and internal user guide to ensure consistency in the way materials are processed for and eventually published on the Archive.

Christine, who has worked with C42 as an Archive Intern earlier on in 2022 became familiar with the process with which we had to wrangle with the artefacts that came our way. She reflects on her experience in her article, detailing her thoughts and inspirations on her time working on the Archive.

Presenting the Mess

We launched the Archive last year with a series of activities with a new character, Archie the Archive Cloud. We had imagined its personality to be an excitable, curious, theatre-loving being. On the Archive, he is likely to sneak up on you when you encounter an error (such as typing in the wrong URL)

Outside of the Archive, Archie has been instrumental in shouting out about interesting entries in the Archive that are relevant to current happenings in the theatre scene through our Instagram #archieologist series. Being familiar with a vast cache of our theatre history gives us a unique bird’s eye view of the theatre scene through time, with our team constantly finding echoes from past works in both new works and restagings. The #archieologist series is the platform where we can share our insights and discoveries with everyone online.

We have rounded-up the #archieologist posts for the last year, check it out over here:

Messiness Managed

Looking back on the year in the Archive, it has been a rewarding journey traversing the sea of artefacts that come our way. From dedicated half-day meetings every week to sort out the work to be done, to scanning, digitising, and uploading information, to contacting various people and organisations to solicit for more materials, the mountain of work sometimes seems insurmountable. But, the excitement in discovering the past and drawing links to the present makes the work worth its while.

Here’s to another year on the C42 Archive of Singapore Theatre! And as before, pardon the mess.

Published: 18 January 2023