Mark Weitzenkamp has been a popular undergraduate adviser in our department since 2013. However, few of his students know that he holds a Ph.D. in Drama and is one of the world’s foremost experts on acting editions (inexpensive versions of plays printed mostly for use in theatres).
This past spring Mark wrapped up an ambitious ten-year project. Starting in the 1930s, the UW Drama Department’s first director, Glenn Hughes (famous for popularizing modern theatre in the round), acquired about 3,000 acting editions from the 19th century, but they had never been accurately and fully catalogued. Mark volunteered his time to write the finding aid for this archive for Special Collections in the UW Library, allowing it to be used by researchers from around the world.
Acting editions provide a window on popular culture because they are what local theatre groups use to stage plays in their communities. Shakespeare is well represented in the archive, as one might expect, but the collection also includes the sorts of minor styles of performance (burlesques, farces, minstrel shows, etc.) that tell us more about the common culture of the English-speaking world. This is a collection of the most problematic as well as the most impressive parts of popular culture.
One of Mark’s central challenges was to identify when the different acting editions were published. (Dates and publisher information are often missing or wrong.) Mark spent seven years researching these items and carefully noting and linking similarities and differences (such as advertisements, bookseller addresses, cover design, and 16 other criteria) in order to construct an accurate chronological framework for placing different editions in time. He then spent the next three years volunteering his vacation time to create the finding aid for the library. The result is a valuable new resource for future drama and book historians.
Mark is currently working on an even more ambitious complete history of acting editions, starting with the works of John Bell in the 1770s (see photo) and continuing to the present. Researching these ephemeral publications in detail for the book has allowed Mark to explore how they create a lens to explore larger societal and historical issues. Chapters of the book deal with the way these publications affect and are affected by the history of copyright, working-class movements, government reform, the rise of public education, women business leaders, and technological advancements in publishing and transportation.
When asked when the book will be completed, Mark sighs and says that his mother likes to guilt-trip him with the same question. It might be a while yet.
URL for the online finding aid: http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv656279