Grapes of Wrath, Technology, Research, and Dramaturgy

My dramaturgical project at Chabot College’s Department of Theater Arts is keeping me quite busy. Since the beginning of the project, I’ve observed auditions, met the company, attended a few rehearsals, begun research, and am putting together a “look book” for the use of the director, cast and crew. What a wonderful opportunity to bring together my love of theater and literature with my professional ambitions as a researcher/librarian. Further, I get to put it all together in a blog format, for which I’m creating a taxonomy that keeps it organized and easily searchable in ways that relate specifically to the production of the play, and hopefully make it more useful and accessible as a company resource.

One of my goals with this project is to bring the information I find to the students involved in the production of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath where they play out their virtual lives and in formats they will use online. Most communication outside of the rehearsal process is via Facebook. In addition to posting information on the Grapes of Wrath blog, information goes up on Twitter (#ChabotTheater) and of course, on the company Facebook group page. YouTube and other video sources have also proved valuable.

Fortunately, many wonderful images are available from the Library of Congress, as part of the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) images found in the American Memory Collection: America from the Great Depression to WWII: Black and White Photographs from the FSA-OWI 1935-1945. This is an excellent resource that is primarily in the public domain because most of the images are government documents photographed by government employees. And of course, so many of the images from this collection have become iconic, such as the image below by Dorothea Lange.

Dorothea Lange. 1936. Migrant Mother Series. Reproduction number: LC-USF34-9058-C (film negative).

"Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936." (retouched version)

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“Oregon Trail: The Movie” & The Place of Gaming in Libraries

Do you remember the educational game “Oregon Trail” from your grade school days? Well, thanks* to the folks over at Half Day Today, you can imagine a live action version of the high stakes ups and downs of life (and death) along the Oregon Trail with their “faux” movie trailer on YouTube.

Half Day Today:

In 1864, a family embarks on an impossible journey into the untamed American West. Based on the classic educational computer game, The Oregon Trail by MECC.

As a kid, I remember dying to go to the computer lab where we played Oregon Trail. In the 1980s, classrooms didn’t yet have computers of their own. But I loved playing that game (so much so that when my husband found the game app for our BlackBerries, I enthusiastically downloaded it for our young nieces and nephews to play). It was such an innovative way to capture the attention of 4th graders (or whatever grade I was in). And I took it so seriously and was so disappointed when we all died of dysentery or broken legs and didn’t make it to Oregon. How very tragic. I’m not sure that I really learned a lot about the pioneer spirit or the pioneer reality, but I certainly did have my imagination captured by technology, so really I learned something else, indirectly through the experience: that technology is cool and can be fun.

At around this same time, I discovered the MS-DOS based version of the game Adventure (aka Colossal Cave, Colossal Cave Adventure, or ADVENT). I loved it, and spent hours trying to map out the cave on huge sheets of drawing paper (this method did not work very well, as I never really could tell where the neighboring cave rooms should be). I think it just goes to show, and here is my big library tie in, that new technologies, gaming, and environments such as Second Life really can capture the imagination of kids, and libraries do and will have a place in providing some of this, through education and outreach.

*Special thanks to Mashable for their tweet directing me to their blog post about the trailer.

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Related Articles & Posts:

Classic Gaming’s Apple II Game of the Week: Oregon Trail

Digital Humanities Quarterly’s Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original “Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky

Mashable’s Faux “Oregon Trail: The Movie” Trailer Hits the Web [VIDEO]

Nicholson, Scott. (2007). The Role of Gaming in Libraries: Taking the Pulse. White paper available online at http://boardgameswithscott.com/pulse2007.pdf