Doner Auditorium project progresses with SDHC grant

Doner Auditorium makeup room
Nearly four decades worth of theatre program student inscriptions cover the Doner Auditorium backstage areas, like this makeup room.

The Doner Auditorium digital preservation project is moving forward, thanks to a South Dakota Humanities Council grant.

The Archives & Special Collections launched this project in the summer of 2019 in an effort to preserve and promote unique SDSU theater history. Doner Auditorium’s backstage holds four decades worth of the theater program students’ inscriptions, including signatures, dates, season lineups and favorite lines from plays.

Built in 1912, Doner Auditorium hosted hundreds of Prairie Repertory Theatre and State University Theatre shows. Now that the theater program has moved to the new Performing Arts Center, Doner Auditorium will eventually be repurposed, taking with it this historical record of theater student perspectives that have accumulated since at least the early 1980s.

The Archives sought to maintain the SDSU theater history by creating an interactive online exhibit using high-quality photos of the backstage and digital materials from the Archives’ Theatre Collection. Users will be able to select individual inscriptions and see related information, like programs and production images. This exhibit will provide a literal behind-the-scenes view of the theater program. It will increase public access to Theatre Collection materials that are presently only viewable in person, and will be a new resource to anyone interested in theater in South Dakota, such as current and former theater participants and instructors; scholars of performing arts, history, or culture; prospective theater students; and theater fans. The exhibit is planned to go live in May 2021.

Funds began to be raised with the announcement of the project. These gifts made the photography of the green room and three small adjacent rooms possible. Thanks to a $7,000 SDHC grant and the remaining donations, the eight other backstage spaces will be photographed and a temporary Archives assistant will be dedicated to the project’s digitization, processing and exhibit creation. The work is planned to start this summer. The SDHC is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Donations continue to be accepted toward the project's preservation supplies and personnel costs. Gifts can be made here; please type in "Doner Auditorium Green Room Preservation Fund 102116" in Steps 2 and 3 of the form. For more information or to mail a donation, please contact Library Operations Manager Emmeline Weber by emailing emmeline.weber@sdstate.edu or calling 605-688-5106.