cropped IMG 1293

Craig Fees, "What is an archive for?" Joint Newsletter 10 (2004), p. 48

 

(Taken from an interview to be published, hopefully, in the next issue of the Newsletter, assuming we don't again run out of time. The interview begins with an innocent remark by the interviewer about the Latin tag "do ut possis dare" which has recently appeared in the Archive and Study Centre masthead, and translates roughly as "Give in order to make it possible (for the one given to) to give." The response leads through a tour of Craig's master's research on Medieval Theatre in Indo-European Context, by way of Dutch Indo-European scholar Jan Gonda, and the impact of Romano-Christian propagandists on the interpretation of non-Christian gift and sacrifice (from the generous and socially deeply rooted "do ut possis dare" to the self-serving and narrowly pragmatic "do ut des"), to arrive at a discussion of fund-raising, and the role of the Narodni Divadlo (National Theatre) in Prague...)

...1974, I was living in the basement in Georgetown of a major Washington (D.C.) mental health lobbyist, Mike Gorman senior, who generously allowed me to stay there, and during the day I worked on the Senate side of the Capitol Building running an elevator, and for Sen. Magnusson in the Russell Senate Office Building answering constituent mail. My supervisor there was a splendid guy named Sam Spina, who gave me tremendous freedom. But on evenings and weekends I did things like run sound for a Shaw play at the American Conservatory Theater, and volunteer work at the Kennedy Arts Center. An amazing place to work: I was given free tickets to see a production designed by the Czech stage and lighting designer, Josef Svoboda (which means "freedom" in Czech, and given the effects he was able to achieve with light and space, and the time - this was several years after the Czech Spring, and many years before the Wall came down - very appropriate), who was already one of my heroes. Radio Prague had been my station on the shortwave radio during high school, and I may have dreamed this, but when we heard the tanks had rolled into Prague I rushed to my radio and heard - or think I heard - that last call for international intervention before the station went off the air. The National Theatre in Prague, and other buildings in that area, still had the bullet holes from the street fighting - because I went to Prague in 1975, after Washington, D.C., with the aim of finding the subject for my master's degree in theatre: Svoboda, or Czech puppet theatre, perhaps: It's a rich theatrical culture, of all kinds. So Czechoslovakia already meant something to me before I went to Prague. But one of the things I had learned was something about the power of belief and identity: The Narodni Divadlo is a huge, French-based temple to Czech national identity, right near the river, built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the small donations of Czech people: of those people - farmers, peasants, craftsmen, workers, professional people, business people - who lived within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but felt themselves to be Czech, and felt themselves to be their own nation. Their thousands and thousands of small donations turned into this amazing 19th century stone symbol of national identity. And not just once: The theatre burned down, and those people raised their belief in themselves again, and subscribed again to build their theatre again. Belief and identity: It made the impossible possible not just once, but twice. Not a lesson to be forgotten. And, of course, the people with the sense of identity enough to do that, with the confidence of mutual belonging, and identity and belief in the future, became a nation which could carry out a velvet revolution.