This past spring semester (2018), APH student Alexa Logush worked at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club Archive in New York City. Below you’ll find Alexa’s blog post about her experience.
Tucked behind props, costumes, and the occasional adorned and bejeweled mannequin, the La MaMa cataloging team resides in a cozy nook of an office, filled with books, photographs, and boxes of show files from the theater’s history. For my internship, I’ve been working at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club to digitize and catalog a series of photographs from the 1980s, all taken by La MaMa’s photographer, Jerry Vezzuso. La MaMa, located in the East Village, is an Off Off-Broadway theater that was founded by Ellen Stewart in 1961 and was recently awarded the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award.
The La MaMa E.T.C. Archives and Library acquired the photo collection from Vezzuso, himself, a little over two years ago after entering an agreement with the photographer. When I started my internship, I was introduced to the cataloging team, the space, and the catalog, which, like any catalog, is always a work in progress. Rachel Mattson, the Archives’ Digital Archivist and Archives Project Manager, walked me through the workflow for digitizing objects from the paper collection and uploading them to the blog. The online catalog offers detailed records and visuals from La MaMa’s history, which is peppered with stars like Steve Buscemi, Diane Lane, and Harvey Fierstein.
Starting the internship with an introduction to the cataloging process, prior to beginning work on the Jerry Vezzuso photo project, was a great way to learn about the general cataloging process and the challenges it can present. La MaMa celebrates visionary artists, international cultures and languages, and experimental art. Sometimes, the limitations of Library of Congress subject headings and naming authorities can make it difficult to properly catalog and represent a show, its actors and artists, and its story. Throughout my time at La MaMa, I’ve been thinking about working with, around, and against cataloging conventions and online findability. It has provided me with some great reading recommendations, which are shared below.
When I started on the Vezzuso photos, I felt more familiar with and prepared to catalog using La MaMa’s cataloging program, Collective Access. The biggest challenge was efficiency and finding a flow for digitizing and then recording information relating to the records. It took some time, but soon I found a system that worked for me that involved researching and writing while photos were being scanned and transferred to the Archives’ server. In addition to adding to the Vezzuso photo records, I also added supplemental information to existing records related to the shows that were depicted in the photos since I was already doing research for the Vezzuso project.
Overall, my experience as an intern with La MaMa was extremely positive and thought-provoking. The cataloging team is doing great work to ensure that La MaMa’s expansive history and the stories of its artists and performers are being shared. As a dual degree student in Archives and Library and Information Science, I’ve also enjoyed critically thinking about ways cataloging has been conducted and how it can be challenged and changed to better represent people, communities, and events. The Archives and Library, which is nestled underneath La MaMa’s main stage, is open for scheduled tours and visitors every Wednesday and welcomes theatergoers, researchers, and art lovers, alike.