Representing History with Pitt Archives and Special Collections

A photo from Kuntu’s performance of Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery


Representing History with Pitt Archives and Special Collections

Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System – Spring 2019

Kuntu Repertory Theatre (KRT) was a Pittsburgh-based theatre company dedicated to highlighting the voices and abilities of black theatre professionals. The company was founded by Dr. Vernell Lillie in 1974 and was associated with Pitt (though not directly part of the university’s theatre department). Throughout their 39 year run, KRT put on over 300 productions-- many of which were new works. Dr. Lillie worked with writers like Rob Penny and August Wilson in order to see theatre in a more diverse light.

During my internship with Pitt’s Archives and Special Collections department, I worked with the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Collection. Under the guidance of the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Project Archivist, Megan Massanelli, I helped organize different aspects of Kuntu’s archives. When my internship began, I focused on video recordings. In preparation for the possible digitization of Kuntu’s video archives, I watched a number of videos taking note of their content, quality, and run-time. This was a highly engaging process—especially because of the films visual qualities. I also had the opportunity to watch full performances of shows and rehearsals. One of the most interesting performances I watched was the creation of a psychodrama within a classroom. Psychodramas were events that Dr. Lillie specialized in creating. They were smaller performances where people act out distressing events from their lives. I had never previously experienced a psychodrama, and while it deeply personal, it was also incredibly fascinating.

After working with VHS tapes, I moved on to Kuntu’s archival photographs, organizing and identifying them. As part of this process I learn a great amount about the different productions Kuntu produced throughout almost four decades. I have been going through unidentified photos, and cross-referencing them in order to identify, label, and file the photos into a box. This process included using Documenting Pitt, an online repository for historical documents from the University of Pittsburgh to view old articles, look at scenic design renderings, and researching various things about different productions (plot, character descriptions, setting, etc). Using these methods has, on many occasions, allowed me to identify a photo (and also feel a bit like a detective). Most recently, I discovered a play title by cross-referencing programs and scenic design renderings.

Looking at these photos has been eye opening in a different manner than the videos. While I did see many interesting photos of productions, there are also many photos of people just enjoying each other’s company. It was very special to see theatre representative of Pittsburgh’s black performance community captured on camera (often with a polaroid). While I have spent the entirety of my college career in performance, this experience has taught me the most about black theatre.

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh