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To be fully appreciated, the performing arts need to be seen and heard, preferably in real time. Reference books—and even databases—may provide photographs and background text, but the experience of hearing a tenor hit a high C or seeing a ballerina execute a perfect arabesque penchée or watching a Shakespearean soliloquy delivered with sound and fury is available only to those attending a live performance or watching (and listening) to a video recording. Imagine, then, if there were reference sources that allowed you not only to watch and listen to streaming videos of great performances of all kinds but also to search those performances for particular moments or scenes. Imagine if you could save clips from those productions and build your own video playlist. With Alexander Street’s Theatre in Video, Dance in Video, and Opera in Video (part of the Critical Video Editions series) you can do just that and more.
According to the company history on its Web site, Alexander Street Press was founded in 2000 to publish “large-scale digital collections of exceptional quality in the humanities and social science.” The year 2006 saw the release of Alexander Street’s first collection of streaming video, Theatre in Video. Editor Will Whalen, in a recent phone conversation, stated that the company had already published several play collections (for example, Asian American Drama, Black Drama,Twentieth Century North American Drama) when it acquired Classical International. This acquisition enabled the company to stream video, and with what they had learned about drama publishing, and now, about media, they found that they could provide students who are reading plays an opportunity to see the plays performed, right on their computers. Theatre in Video is a searchable database consisting of more than 500 hours of plays and documentaries. It includes live television broadcasts of New York productions from the 1950s, examples of experimental theater works from the 1960s and 1970s, and filmed productions from the BBC. You can search them by keyword, title, playwright, director, performer, company, and more. The quest for additional works to add to the database is ongoing and driven, in part, said Whalen, by suggestions from academic advisors. Plays that are available in full text in other Alexander Street databases are also prime candidates for inclusion. When asked about the challenges of creating a product like this, Whalen said that acquiring video rights is often difficult and that sometimes plays that Alexander Street would like to add have never even been filmed.
Liz Dutton, editor of Dance in Video and Opera in Video, said that when Alexander Street acquired Classical International, it wanted to expand to other disciplines in which there was a need for videos for use in teaching. Dance and opera were two of those areas. There was also a need, she said, for videos in which specific scenes could be quickly located. Dutton remarked that a lot of dance faculty members were turning to YouTube for videos. Unlike YouTube, Dance in Video is searchable—and much more credible. Like Theatre in Video,Dance in Video and Opera in Video offer hundreds of hours of performances as well as documentaries. As of this writing, Dance in Video includes 68 videos of performances by such companies as the Lyon National Opera Ballet, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and the Nederlands Dans Theater. You can search by dance genre (e.g., ballet, modern, tap); ensemble; venue; and more. Opera in Video has 40 videos of performances by such companies as La Scala, the Royal Opera, and the San Francisco Opera, to name just a few, and can be searched by vocal form (e.g., aria, cabaletta, recitative); time period; and more. As is the case with Theatre in Video, there is an ongoing effort to acquire additional videos for these two databases. Dutton related that efforts are underway to acquire the American Dance Festival video series for Dance in Video and a complete production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for Opera in Video. Ultimately, each of the three performing-arts databases will contain 250 of the most important performances.
All three collections share some innovative features that make these databases so well suited for classroom use. The ability to create and share playlists enables instructors to create electronic course reserves, and the clips can be annotated. Links to videos can also be embedded in PowerPoint presentations or within papers. Whalen observed that he hopes there is no end to the ways the video collections can be used and that one of the things they allow for is comparative study; in fact, he says, they might open up new areas of study.
Although these databases are of interest primarily to academic libraries serving institutions with programs of studies in the performing arts, Dutton noted that there are some public libraries that subscribe to Dance in Video and Opera in Video. With their special features and the fact that they don’t require any special viewing equipment (or shelf space), it’s easy to see that these collections would appeal to any patron of the arts. For pricing information, contact the publisher.
Carolyn Mulac is Division Chief, General Information Services, the Chicago Public Library.
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