A new photo display now hangs in the MPAC lounge. UMD’s Department of Theatre Head Mark Harvey says the display has been “something of a pet project of mine for the past year.” Eleven photos hang in total, dating back to 1987. They each show an image of a play that was performed during the Regional or National Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. The festival is a place to showcase college theatre departments in various categories, including shows, acting, playwriting and more.
Harvey was inspired to create the photo wall after UMD acting professor and director Tom Isbell added a plaque to an already large stack on his desk.
“I just thought, ‘this is silly,’” Harvey said.
The plaque Isbell set down was from the most recent show to go to KCACTF: “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove,” a play that ran during the fall 2013 semester.
“I thought I could do this project in a few months and it would be done,” Harvey said of the display. “Here I am a year later, and it’s still not finished.”
The reason it’s taken so long? Finding all the photos, plaques and playbills.
“Our department is not good at archiving. We’re always about the next show, next show, next show,” Harvey said.
Because the KCACTF shows go back to 1987, many of the early photos were not digital. Instead, they were all on analog film.
“I had to take actual negatives to First Photo, here in Duluth, and have them converted to CDs,” Harvey said.
In addition to converting the images, Harvey had to choose which photos to display. The directors from the first three shows are no longer with us, so Harvey met with various faculty members who were familiar with the plays.
The intent was to choose a photo that best represented the play. But these moments rarely included the entire cast, so Harvey decided he would also need cast photos. These proved even more difficult to track down.
Though Harvey has his own personal collection, he did not have everything. He reached out to costume shop manager and assistant professor Laura Piotrowski to see if she had them in her personal archive, which dates back to when she started at UMD in 1982.
“It’s been kind of a team effort,” Harvey said.
There were production photos, plaques and cast photos, but Harvey realized there was no way of knowing who was in them. In the same way that he hunted down the cast photos, he went about finding the playbills.
Finally, he had everything. The programs are not yet hanging on the wall, but Harvey hopes they will be soon.
The result is a series of photos documenting the history of UMD theatre’s success. In only 27 years, UMD has had 11 shows go to KCACTF — many schools are excited about being invited once.
“To go, on average, every three years — that’s incredible,” Harvey said.
And with the space left on the walls beyond the 11 photo collections currently hanging, there’s plenty of room for growth. In fact, Harvey measured it — there’s enough room for 10 more. If the trend of going once every three years continues, that’s room for 30 years of documentation.
“It kind of implies more to come,” Harvey said.
The wall simultaneously looks to the future while honoring the past — something that MPAC was missing until now.
“I think it’s important for the theatre department to recognize its history,” Harvey said. “This is the beginning of that.”