When I started at Perkins Archives in September, I was presented with four packages of programs wrapped in brown paper which had not been touched in about sixty years. My internship project, completed as part of my archives class at Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science, was to organize these materials and create a finding aid. As I finished working with the collection (Perkins Music and Theater Programs, and Other Material, 1878-circa 1940), I used the photographs in Perkins’ Theater Collection and the detailed director’s descriptions in the Perkins Annual Reports to learn more about theater education for the blind, as well as the plays that I had become familiar with through the programs that I processed. I would like to share some excerpts from the Annual Reports, which focus on the blind students’ lively and impressive performances; describe the costumes, music, and audiences; and emphasize the educational importance of theater for the blind.
I am particularly interested in the Annual Reports’ emphasis on the impact of theater in blind education. In the 1903 report, Anagnos writes:
"As we have stated in former reports, there is a distinct educational value in these attempts of our pupils in amateur theatricals, aside from the financial assistance which is thereby given to the kindergarten department. The enjoyment of drama depends largely upon the visual sense. Deprived of that interpreter, however fine the delivery of the text may be, much of it becomes meaningless to blind boys and girls, who cannot see the accompanying action or recognize the speaker. The running commentary upon the movements of the play, which a seeing companion may give, is oftentimes inadequate. The sound pedagogical principle of “learning by doing” applies in this instance as it does in every phrase in the scheme of education. Let the pupil once gain an inkling of the fine art of the actor through his own efforts, and he is ready to exclaim with Hamlet: “The play’s the thing"" (1903 Annual Report, p. 83-84).
“[The proceeds of As You Like It] were gladly added to the much-needed funds for the kindergarten department at Jamaica Plain, but the intrinsic value of these efforts in dramatic portrayal to the young actors themselves cannot be over-estimated. They are thus, and only thus, permitted to appreciate and enjoy an art, which must otherwise be shut out from their comprehension by their great deprivation, the loss of sight, but which through this means becomes an added factor in the development of their æsthetic nature. The presentation of one of Shakespeare’s plays must tend also to promote the love of poetry and rhythm” (1904 Annual Report, p. 80)
There was great enthusiasm for the student plays, both from the performers and from the large audiences. While we have no way of experiencing these performances ourselves, the programs in this collection, combined with the Theater Collection and the Annual Reports help us better understand the character and importance of music and theater to students at Perkins in the 1880s-1910s.