In 1904, Annie Horniman acquired the Hibernian Theater of Varieties (commonly known as the Mechanics’ Theatre) on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin for the use of the Irish National Theatre Society.
Joseph Holloway, staunch supporter of the Irish National Theatre Society and architect, was engaged to renovate the interior of the theatre, which opened on 27th December 1904 with performances of On Baile’s Strand by W. B. Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan by Yeats and Lady Gregory, and Lady Gregory’s Spreading the News. The “old” Abbey Theatre remained in use until damaged by fire in 1951.
The task of digitally visualising the Abbey Theatre as designed by Joseph Holloway poses many challenges. Holloway’s architectural plans and drawings fortunately survive in the National Library of Ireland, and we have several black-and-white photographs of the early Abbey. However, it is more difficult to obtain detailed information about textiles, colour-schemes, and fixtures and fittings originally employed, as well as the less photogenic but functionally important backstage areas.
Because there will inevitably be gaps and contradictions in the historical information available to us, it becomes crucial to open the doors to the interpretative process so that the decisions we are making can be freely observed. By documenting the research process, and publishing wherever possible the primary sources upon which our visualisations are based, viewers will be able to evaluate the finished models as confidently as they would any other kind of research hypothesis.
This approach is guided by the principles of the London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage (2.1) February 2009. (If unfamiliar with the use of computer visualisation as a historical research method in general or the London Charter in particular, a good place to start is the on-line Introduction to the Charter written by Richard Beacham, Hugh Denard and Franco Niccolucci in 2006.)
By publishing our journey as a web-log, to which anyone can add comments, we hope that the Abbey Theatre, 1904 project will help to stimulate new ideas and questions about the history of this fascinating and important time and place.
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