Students, researchers, thespians, and scholars will soon be able to access old and new scripts of plays staged at Theatre in the Park online after Rooftop Promotions established a digital archive.
The project which is funded by SANORD will make it easier to provide scripts and information regarding the playwrights and cast and the years in which the plays were produced.
Added to this, the digital archive will ensure that Zimbabwean plays can now be performed and monetized overseas.
Rooftop Promotions producer Daves Guzha reiterated the importance of digitalizing their library dating back to Theatre in the Park’s formative years in 1986.
“The biggest asset for Rooftop Promotions is actually the scripts and that’s where our value really is. To put it into context, were you to do a comparison with Market Theatre and 20th Century Fox and so forth they have over 40 or 70 years of scripts in their vault.
“We are really excited, we are taking the first step digitalizing content, and the second step, monetizing that particular content,” Guzha said.
He said the digital library would provide for copyright and storage issues.
“Our work or content from Theatre in the Park scripts didn’t cross to Europe or the United States to be done by theatre houses and companies because it is not readily available. The process has been slow because you don’t expect somebody to come from Europe to ask for a copy of the script.
“But once they are online it becomes very easier to share the content, it also makes it easy to protect issues of rights, issues of storage it becomes fluid and seamless,” Guzha said.
According to Guzha some of the challenges of not digitalizing their archive was that they lost a number of scripts over the years.
“We are actually going back in time bearing in mind Rooftop Promotions started in 1986 and now to think of digitalizing that archive in 2023 you can do the maths in terms of how many years is that, but yes, we have lost some and we also trying to recover some.
“What has also been particularly difficult is remembering the years of production that we did the earlier work including who was the cast. Remember we were not photographing everything. Not every play had photographs and not every play was reviewed. We might have to come to The Herald. Unfortunately, Parade (magazine) archive nobody knows where it is or the Look & Listen archive nobody knows where it is. Otherwise, it would’ve been easier to go to any of those archives and see what exists,” he said.
He, however, acknowledged that they could also have made use of the National Archives and deposited their scripts periodically.
The database project is being led by Swedish-based renowned researcher, Professor Ashleigh Harris of Uppsala University.
“I do research to make sure archives in African literature and culture are getting secured for the future. So, Rooftop has got this amazing collection of all of the plays that have been put up here since its beginning but have been sitting in this container, and eventually, some papers just disappear,” she said.
She said so far, they had created an archive of over 280 plays that were performed at Theatre in the Park.
Some of the plays on the database include 70 scripts by Stephen Chifunyise, a foremost prolific playwright to emerge from Zimbabwe.