Reviewed October 2017
Sarah Mackowski, Acquisitions & Interlibrary Loan Assistant
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library
Ensemble@Yale is a crowdsourced transcription tool for theatre programs, patterned on a project by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, also titled Ensemble. Whereas the NYPL project used older material that had fallen into public domain, the Yale project is focused on the institution’s internal history, providing theater programs that span from its earliest years to its most recent, from both student and professional productions. Participation is free, but does require a login, either through a Yale University login or through one of several third-party options (Google, Facebook, or Twitter).
Users can choose one of two entry points to the site’s content by selecting either the “Mark” button or the “Transcribe” button. Opting to mark programs allows the user to identify text regions to be transcribed, and opting to transcribe takes the user directly to transcribing a program’s textual matter including Title/subtitle, Playwright, Director, Dates, Actor/Role (and description), and Staff Member/Role. The site functions similarly to any of the now-common citizen science transcription projects, and the instructions are therefore brief. However, assuming that one transcription project works like another can lead to errors; adding more detail to the instructions and ensuring they are mirrored across both halves of the program would be beneficial. Currently some instructions are made explicit only in the “Mark" half of the program, as one may discover after starting to “Transcribe” first.
The site is intended to be accessed from a desktop machine: marking the areas for transcription requires a mouse, but transcribing fields can technically be done using the mobile interface. The site operates cleanly on Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, and with only minor aesthetic issues in Internet Explorer. There are some minor navigational issues that crop up when moving from one portion of the site to another, and one additional problem lies in the transcription side of the tool, which requires the user to manually move the cursor from text field to text field for data entry. However, none of these issues is insurmountable.
While Ensemble@Yale is functionally a transcription tool, it also serves as an informational resource. The content includes programs as recent as 2016 and as old as 1925. The programs are presented by “era,” distinguished by milestones in the development of the theatre program or by artistic director. Some filtering can be done within each era, including institution (e.g. Yale Repertory Theatre or the Yale School of Drama), but because of these initial divisions, there appears to be no way to filter across the entire 90 years of material. There is also no way to search transcribed fields, thus no ability to search for a given actor or designer. One would presume that such a search tool will be available once the transcription work is complete.
At present, Ensemble@Yale is most useful for those interested specifically in the history of the Yale School of Drama and the Yale Repertory Theatre. Casual theatre aficionados and crowdsourcing enthusiasts will also enjoy utilizing the tool, especially if they may serendipitously come across a familiar name. The tool would be improved if the categories for transcription were expanded to include setting information, thanks, biographies, or dramaturgical notes. The current fields for transcription focus on making the contributors to a work more discoverable, but with some additions could contribute further to making the context of the work more accessible as well.