MRC's Mike Wood preserves top American playwrights' views with NEA grant

1:49:46 PM CDT - Friday, February 11, 2005

By Melissa Lacey

A collection of interviews with leading American playwrights is being preserved by Wichita State's Media Resources Center, thanks to a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The MRC, in cooperation with Independence Community College, is digitally archiving interviews of 14 American playwrights. Mike Wood, the MRC director who conducted the interviews, is supervising the project.

Mike Wood

Mike Wood, Media Resources Center director, is in front of a collection of videotaped interviews he's conducted with famous American playwrights. With a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the interviews will be preserved by transferring them to the smaller new digital format, at left.

Photo by Melissa Lacey

"This is the first NEA grant WSU has received in recent memory," said Skip Loper, associate vice president for research. "It's a wonderful recognition of the work that Mike Wood and the MRC have done."

Since 1987, Wood has produced a multimedia tribute to a playwright for the annual William Inge Theatre Festival at ICC.

"The people (he's interviewed) are literally a who's who of who's important in American theater," said Joyce Cavarozzi, a longtime WSU theater professor who has directed and acted in plays by some of the playwrights.

Until 2002, video interviews with each honoree were originally recorded on analog 3/4-inch and Beta SP tapes. Because the collection of 90 tapes totaling 40 hours is at risk of deteriorating over time, transferring them to the uncompressed digital tape format is essential, said Wood. Especially considering the cast of interviewees.

The interviews include such noted playwrights as Neil Simon ("The Odd Couple"), Arthur Miller ("Death of a Salesman"), Edward Albee ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?") and composer Stephen Sondheim ("West Side Story"). Wood and an assistant usually travel to the honorees' homes, often in New York, to interview them and their theater colleagues.

"I have a lot of offers to go with me on these trips," said Wood.

Simon once told Wood that the salute he'd received at the Inge Festival was better than the Kennedy Center honors he had received.

The archiving project has three stages. First, the playwright interviews will be digitized. Second, the interviews will be fully transcribed into text format. Finally, the digital video and transcriptions will be edited into segments suitable for uploading to a Web page for each playwright.

Because the videos have only been shared with Inge Theatre Festival audiences, the ultimate goal is to make the library of interviews available to a wider audience of scholars, documentarians and those with a general interest in theater via the Internet.

Wood plans to archive about seven of the 14 playwright interviews by the December funding expiration date. The grant, about half of what was requested, will cover the cost of tape stock and a computer server, and the salaries of Wood's student assistant, the transcriptionist, and a Web developer. Wood's involvement as project coordinator is provided as an in-kind contribution.

Wood notes that the NEA is sometimes "a tough nut to crack," because its grants are often slated for major arts entities on the coasts.

"It's nice to have gotten their attention," he said.

Cavarozzi, who has team-taught some theater classes with Wood, isn't surprised that Wood was noticed by the NEA. "He's known all over this country, because his work with the Inge festival is so outstanding," she said.

Besides WSU, the only other Kansas recipients of NEA grants last year were the Kansas Arts Commission and the University of Kansas.

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