Author: Eline De Lepeleire (Het Firmament)

    Summary

    In 2010 the De Munt archive included around 50 scenery models and is still growing today. As a result, the De Munt archive unit developed a clear procedure for creating (with the aim of proper preservation), storing, restoring, registering and disclosing scenery models in order to guarantee future sustainability. They based their practice on several international examples.  

    Status

    1. Identifying scenery models in the De Munt archive
    2. Collecting expertise on the scenery models
    3. Developing a procedure for creating (with the aim of proper preservation), storing, restoring, registering and public display of scenery models (of future productions)
    4. Introducing a procedure for creating (with the aim of proper preservation), storing, restoring, registering and public display of scenery models 

    Problem definition

    Introduction

    In 2010 around 50 scenery models were identified in the De Munt archive. In order to rejuvenate this heritage and then find a method for keeping track of models from future productions, a project was started to describe, restore and store scenery models in the De Munt archive collections.

    The scenery model is by origin merely a working document to scale, a three-dimensional sketch for the final piece of scenery. What scenery studios regard as a mere technical tool in their work is a rare object in the theatrical heritage. This dichotomy results in a diverse attitude and treatment in the various departments of a theatre. Finding a solution for our scenery models was therefore a matter of finding a balance.

    Desired results

    • Using existing expertise to develop a method for preserving, restoring, registering and making the scenery models accessible
    • Procedure for dealing with scenery models from future productions
    • Rejuvenation of De Munt’s scenery models

    Method

    1. Building up expertise on scenery models
    2. Identifying existing models
      • 2.1.  Devising and sending out a questionnaire on scenery models
      • 2.2.  Visit to two institutions
    3. Developing a process for managing scenery models
      • 3.1.  Creation of scenery models for new productions
      • 3.2.  Storage
      • 3.3.  Registering and putting on public display

    1. Identifying existing models

    In 2010, at the start of the project, only about 50 scenery models were identified in De Munt. This is partly the result of a fire that destroyed a warehouse at Barastraat in Anderlecht in May 1992, where the scenery and models from De Munt were stored. Models or individual parts from more recent productions, or items that escaped the fire, were then spread all over the theatre. The existing models were identified and linked to productions they were used for. 

    2. Building up expertise on scenery models

    Once the existing models had been identified, it was recommended to update a method by building on the experiences of opera houses, theatres and other institutions that were part of SIBMAS (International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives and Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts), the international network for theatrical heritage.

    2.1 Devising and sending out a questionnaire on scenery models

    In the first instance, a survey with a standard questionnaire was sent out. The aim was to find answers to a whole range of issues, such as solutions for storing models and their components and the materials used for them, specifications about transport, lighting, the 'ideal' solution and, lastly, mistakes that should be avoided at all costs. The solutions that were offered were diverse, going from very simple to very complicated by way of the possibly ideal middle solution. 

    2.2 Visits to two institutions 

    After analysing the survey results, it was decided to visit two institutions in Paris to study their approach at close range: the unit for the restoration of graphic documents and models at the National Library of France, and the Comédie-Française. The approach taken by these two French institutions can be read about here.  

    3. Procedure for managing scenery models

    3.1 Creation of scenery models for new productions

    A scale first had to be determined, to which all future models were to be made. The drawing office then came up with a 'building package’ in foam board on a scale of 1/25. This package was given to every scenery designer and now has to be used when presenting a model.

    3.2 Preservation

    During the preliminary production phase, the model is kept in the drawing office. Once the scenery is being built on stage, it is taken in a storage box to the archive unit or sent in its ‘building package’ to the co-producer of the production.

    The storage box is a made-to-measure box in plywood, based on the model of the Comédie-Française, with non-restrictive and reversible solutions that conform to the preservation standards used at the National Library of France. The panels are painted with black acrylic paint (Frescolight-Lascaux) with as many layers inside as outside to prevent any tension between the two. The box has an opening at the front and another that takes up half of the area of the top, filled with 3mm-thick fire-resistant polycarbonate. Every storage box has an index card containing metadata for easy identification.

    3.3 Registering and putting on public display

    When a scenery designer comes to present his model in the theatre, a specialist in museum photography is brought in to record every scenery change from a frontal perspective. The archive unit uses this occasion to enter an initial description of the model in the C.a.r.m.e.n. database.

    When the storage box is transferred to the archive unit, all the models are given a final description in the C.a.r.m.e.n. database.

    Results 

    Were the desired results obtained?

    De Munt also had to adapt to the sensibilities of various departments within the institution and adapt to the primary task of De Munt, which is the creation of new productions. For budgetary, structural and logistical reasons it was impossible to carry out the requirements on preservation, conservation and/or restoration to the extent that specialised institutions do so. However, the archive did manage to implement a process within the theatre for guaranteeing the future sustainability of the scenery models. The revaluation of the existing scenery models was also successful. A definitive procedure was also developed for describing and photographing the scenery models of future productions with a view to public display via the C.a.r.m.e.n. database. Furthermore, the models were exhibited during the press conference for the 2011 season and integrated into the introductory film clip for 'Opera at the cinema’ (2014).

    Conclusions and points for attention

    • International examples of professional players can be used in accordance with the confines of the budget
    • By linking this project to public relations, the management was persuaded to release some funding for it
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