News & Commentary, Stage, Theatre

The world’s largest directory of Australian stage performances, AusStage, is under threat

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AusStage is an online index of live performances by Australians since the 18th century. It is said to be the only repository of Australian performing arts in the world and the most comprehensive record of Australian live theatre ever compiled. Its database includes live performances that have taken place in Australia and stage plays that have been written, directed, produced or performed by Australians overseas.

Its collection includes records of the first theatre production believed to have been staged in Australia, performed by convicts in a mud-wall hut in 1789 and attended by Captain Arthur Phillip.

AusStage was formed in 2000 and is managed by a consortium of Australian universities, government agencies, industry organisations and arts institutions and now has more than 250,000 records. It has been funded from grants from the Australian Research Council under a ‘research infrastructure’ scheme but as it has grown those funds are no longer enough to cover its costs.

“Regrettably, as AusStage continues to mature and grow, the original research funding that helped launch it becomes less and less appropriate, while the availability of alternative schemes for a project of this scope and purpose are rare,” says Professor Julian Meyrick at Flinders University where the server infrastructure for AusStage is maintained.

“We are now looking at ways of sustaining the future of AusStage outside of traditional means, as there are no specific funding grants for database management or upgrades to server technology, which are fundamental to the success of the AusStage platform.”

The project team who run AusStage want to avoid putting up subscription wall. “This would undermine the spirit of access and education that inspired the creation of AusStage in the first place,” says Meyrick.

Instead, the project team have asked university libraries across Australia to make a financial contribution as part of a “plan of shared action” to maintain the database this year.

It has received major gifts from the University of Melbourne Library, the University of Wollongong Library, the University of New South Wales Library and Flinders’ Central Library – but it needs to raise $200,000 to maintain it annually.

Since its inception, AusStage has become a go-to resource for thousands of scholars, artists, students and theatre enthusiasts for theatrical history, researching the evolution of Australian theatre companies, and following the career trajectories of Australian actors, playwrights and directors.

The AusStage database can be found at www.ausstage.edu.au and donations can be made via the Flinders University at www.flinders.edu.au/giving.

PHOTO: HANDSPAN THEATRE: Nigel Triffitt’s Secrets Full stage. Photograph: © William Struhs, 1994

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