What do Leopold & Loeb’s original 1924 ransom note, Patricia Neal’s 1972 Golden Globe, one of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s 1978 college blue books, and Practical Theatre Company memorabilia, circa 1979-1989, have in common?
This year, everyone who ever worked at The Practical Theatre Company has been accorded a great honor by Northwestern University. For generations to come, a decade’s worth of our adventures (and some misadventures) — from “Clowns” to the musical “Rockme” — are now enshrined among the Special Collections in the Northwestern University Archives.
The written and videotaped record of that brilliant, madcap, kinetic and creative period — from Shanley Hall to the John Lennon Auditorium, from Piper’s Alley to Briar Street – have been lovingly placed upon the venerable shelves of the Old Deering Library. (Not the concrete monstrosity built in 1970 – but the grand cathedral-like edifice, built between 1931 and 1933 and, perhaps apocryphally, derided as an “upside down pig” by Frank Lloyd Wright.)
How did this come to pass?
The 4-part PTC history I penned for this blog got the attention of University Archivist, Kevin B. Leonard, who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a chance to place the tangible history of the PTC in safekeeping at Northwestern Library, where it can be studied by students, researchers, writers, and anyone with an interest in the exploits of the Practical Theatre, Chicago theatre in the 1980’s, improvisational theatre, and the legend of Tomaloochie Falls.
A couple of years ago, my wise and wonderful wife, Victoria, urged me to clean up our cluttered garage and turn it into a room that our teenage daughters could use for music and recreation.
A key part of that effort involved opening all those dusty, damaged boxes of PTC files, photos, artwork, oddities and rarities and putting them into file cabinets where they’d be out of the way – and protected.
Now that this jumbled mass of an archive was stuffed into file drawers, it was easy to get lost for hours poring over ancient documents, from “Bag O’ Fun” scripts, to PTC Board meeting minutes, and other goodies, including season brochures and posters illustrated by a grand gallery of great artists: Ron Crawford, John Goodrich, Paul Guinan and Gary Whitney, among others. These rediscoveries inspired my blog series on the PTC’s history – and provided the graphic material that brought those articles to life.
But as I transferred those precious pieces of history from cardboard boxes to metal file cabinets, an alarming number of water-damaged documents reminded me of how a flash flood in the basement of my first home in Woodland Hills came dangerously close to destroying this accumulated treasure of legendary theatrical lore. So, when the NU Archives offered to provide a safe home for the documentary history of the PTC, I was happy to get this trove off my hands and into the grasp of professional archivists.
Over the course of six months, working some weekends and grabbing a few hours here and there, I dove into the process of sorting and arranging all those bulging file cabinets full of raw, confused files into something the NU Archives could work with upon receipt. I suppose I could’ve just sent Kevin Leonard the whole, unadulterated pile of Practical – but Mama Barrosse raised me better than that.
Finally, the PTC archives were ready for delivery, along with four boxes of my personal papers, covering my post-PTC adventures and TV shows like Totally Hidden Video, Strange Universe and Behind the Music. I was relieved to know that, after all these years, this archive was headed home to Northwestern, where the whole adventure began.From: Paul Barrosse Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011 To: Kevin B Leonard Subject: Practical Archives Hi, Kevin! I dropped the boxes off at UPS on Monday night — so they probably got shipped to you on Tuesday. One note: Each box has files arranged alphabetically — but each box goes A-Z. For instance, you may find files for “Art, Ruth & Trudy”, “Babalooney” and “Scubba Hey” in several boxes. Generally, this is not the same material, but additional material I discovered as I filled each box.
See you soon, Paul
In mid-September, I flew to Chicago with my daughter Emilia, a junior at Northwestern. I had three good reasons for the trip.
I had to help Emilia move into an off-campus house.
Now, the history that so many of us – NU alums and non-alums alike – made together in the 1980’s is now home alongside the papers of such notables at Patricia Neal, Frank Galati and Viola Spolin, the Queen Mother of improvisation.
BTW – Viola’s son, Paul Sills, founded the Story Theatre in the Piper’s Alley space behind Second City: the very same space that became the PTC’s Piper’s Alley Theatre – home of The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee, Megafun, and Babalooney. (There are a lot of cool connections to be made at the NU Archives.)
I encourage you to drop by Old Deering Library and pay a visit to the Northwestern Archives. Check out the Special Collections — and get your hands on the history of The Practical Theatre Company. Especially those of you who helped to make that history.