Digital files lack flavour of Regent

A chunk of the Regent Theatre’s history seems to have vanished in a puff of digital dust.

Paper files tracing the Dunedin theatre’s history over more than a century have survived the years but when theatre stalwart Doug Lovell, of Wanaka, set out to write the theatre’s history, he found a shortage of interesting material since the dawn of the digital age.

And, after five years of research, Mr Lovell has called it quits, leaving the job to someone who might be able to find and download the hard drives.

"The advent of digital photography and computerised minutes and so on made life a bit more difficult because people aren’t printing off their photographs anymore.

"It’s just not easy to get records."

The difficulty of finding information about the theatre’s more recent years had been frustrating and "a real concern", and he believed other institutions could face the same issue.

Mr Lovell, who ran the Regent 24-Hour book sale for 30 years said his age was also a factor in deciding not to continue with the history.

Theatre board chairwoman Alison Cunningham said key documents such as records of board meetings were kept.

"What you do lose is the more personal stuff like people sending in thank you notes when they particularly enjoy the show — that kind of thing.

"People just don’t do it on pieces of paper anymore.

"I think that’s something that’s not just a Regent thing; it’s a worldwide thing.

"It’s so much easier for somebody to text you now, or send you an email, than [it is to] put pen to paper."

And, she did not consider it was practical to keep every email sent in the past 25 years.

Ms Cunningham said she would welcome the public providing photographs, documents and anecdotes to assist with the theatre’s history, being written for its centenary.

According to Heritage New Zealand, the Regent’s facade was "probably" originally attached to a "large rooming and shop building of the 1880s".

In the 1920s the theatre auditorium was added as a cinema for the movie industry.

Paul Aubin looked after the theatre archives for 20 years until the 1980s and was not greatly involved with digital material.

But, he believed the "colour" of the theatre was contained in the personal letters and notes on paper stored in the archive room.

"That early stuff with all those extra bits and pieces attached to it — notes and PSs and NBs and comments — was very, very fruitful in bringing in the real colour or character of things."

Mr Aubin said the digital material he did deal with became "more impersonal and less interesting" with reports "smothered in a kind of officialese".

"If we want to get the colour of the history of some institution or person then it’s the old way of doing things that provides more profit."

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