Much of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's audio and visual archives will be available on the Internet by next year.

Much of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's audio and visual archives will be available on the Internet by next year.

Historical material is being transferred to digital format to provide wider access and because the original film and tape is deteriorating with age.

Funded by a $200,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, the project is now in its second year, with about 1,300 of the nearly 2,700 items already digitized. About two-thirds of the digitized materials will be accessible by the public on the Web. The remainder is covered by copyright and union agreements that do not allow general viewing.

A separate website will be set up for the archives with a link through the main OSF site. Records and Reference Archivist Debra Griffith says the new website should be operational late this year or early next.

"History made by voice is core to the festival," says Griffith. Interviews, radio productions done with NBC and other vocal material will be available, along with videos.

At least one recording of every work in Shakespeare's canon will be available. Still format material will be shown when just audio recordings of productions are available.

One surprise was the amount of film footage that is available from the late 1950s and early 1960s, says Griffith. There are also home movies that festival founder Angus Bowmer shot from the beginning in 1935.

"Angus got the only known images of the original Elizabethan stage house under construction," says Griffith. "There's 'Romeo and Juliet' footage (from the second season) in color. It's just amazing.

"Most of our films have very vague titles. Just about every one of them is very surprising," says Griffith. "I'm going through indexing them so we know what we have."

Festival employees already make use of the archives but will be able to do so via computers rather than visiting the archives center.

Producers may use the videos to help when casting upcoming plays, says Griffith. "It's a wonderful collection to see how an actor's skills have changed over time."

Understudy actors will view videos of current plays to check on blocking and the timing of entrances and exits from scenes, says Griffith.

Marketing and education departments will determine how they will utilize the website when it becomes operational, says festival Media and Communications Manager Amy Richard.

Last year a panel used the archives to show what every Romeo looked like in every festival production of "Romeo and Juliet."

"We hope to do more collaboration with the education department," says Griffith. "We have enough audio footage from various productions of single plays that it will be a significant resource for comparing how we have handled different productions."

Carl Ritchie's 1996-99 audio archives project created a basis for much of the current effort. Ritchie acted at the festival in the 1950s and served in a variety of roles for more than 25 years. He was the first publicity director.

Ritchie inventoried and organized more than 2,000 tapes.

He also created a 900-page catalog complete with notes, as he had personal knowledge of many shows. The catalog will be available in its entirety on the website.

"If there's a hum in the background, he's got notes about what that was," says Griffith.

After a consultant recommended digitizing the material in 2007, OSF received a two-year grant to improve access. As part of the grant, 200 recordings were digitized as a test base.

Tapes, film and video are shipped to a Pennsylvania company, where they are digitized and, in some cases, restored. The tapes are then returned to the festival.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at