For almost 50 years, the archives of the Guthrie Theater have been stored in underground caverns beneath the University of Minnesota’s Elmer L. Andersen Library.

Scripts and costume designs and stage-manager notes from every play, every performance, are squeezed into boxes with other relics of Guthrie lore, just waiting for someone who wants to study them.

But if you want to go online and search what’s in those boxes, you’re out of luck.

Now, the U is launching a yearlong project to create, for the first time, a detailed online catalog of the Guthrie archives.

The project, funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, won’t digitize the whole collection, said Cecily Marcus, the curator for the Performing Arts Archives at the U libraries. “That would require much more than $100,000,” she says with a laugh. But “it definitely is a step toward making it available to the public.”

The U has been the official repository for the Guthrie’s archives since 1967, just four years after the Minneapolis theater opened. Today, Marcus says, the library has nearly 800 cubic feet of Guthrie records, offering a behind-the-scenes view of its “very rich production history.”

Right now, the online summary of the collection gives only the vaguest hint of the treasures that lie within those boxes, says Marcus. If, for example, if you wanted to study the set designs from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or the script notes from “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a librarian would have to page through three binders of typewritten notes to locate where in the underground caverns they could be found.

“We will be producing a much more useful, detailed list for people to access [online],” Marcus said. While the collection is open to the public, you’ll still need a librarian to retrieve the items, and to show up in person to examine them. But someday, Marcus hopes, at least some of the documents will be digitized and posted online for anyone to see.

But that will have to wait for another day, and another grant.

 

maura.lerner@startribune.com