23 of 50

2019 is our 50th anniversary and we are championing some of the people who help make Scottish Ballet a great place to work. Each week we will introduce you to a different career at Scottish Ballet and the person behind it. 

As Database Coordinator & Digital Archivist Sophie McCormack-Gow is responsible for ensuring that the last 50 years of Scottish Ballet's history are well preserved. She is currently working on digitising rehearsal and performance footage from its original physical film.

We spoke to Sophie about the changing nature of archives, and she shares some of the weird and wonderful things she's uncovered from Scottish Ballet's history. 

How did you become an archivist?

During my undergraduate I studied a joint honours degree in Digital Media with Information Studies and Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow. Whilst studying I worked as a live event technician for an enormous selection of events from theatre shows to weddings to political broadcasts and my favourite; Christmas Light switch ons. 

Having worked on so many events I became curious about how we archive theatre. From here I went on to write my dissertation on the archiving of live performance, and my adviser let me know that archiving was a career option, though I must say one I’d never considered!

There are a variety of ways to become an archivist, but I chose to study the MSc in Information Management and Preservation at the University of Glasgow, which gained me professional qualifications in archiving, records management and librarianship.

What do you spend your time doing on a day-to-day basis in the archive?

I head to the vaults, roll open our shelves and take off a selection of tapes for the day. I then input each tape into the database, noting as much information I can. We look for problems with the tape such as Sticky Shed Syndrome and bake the tapes where necessary. This requires what is essentially a very fancy oven! 

To salvage a tape suffering from Sticky Shed Syndrome we place in an oven pre-heated to 50°C, and leave it to bake for around 24-48 hours, before digitising it while it's still warm. 

How are archives changing?

They are becoming digital! The amount of information we produce and store digitally is like nothing we have seen before in human history. Whilst digital archiving is not perfect and there is something to be said for a good physical item which is kept in appropriate conditions, digital archives of course have many advantages and uses. 

This move to digital archiving is also a positive for outreach and access. Suddenly materials can be accessed across the world without the need to travel.

What is the most exciting thing you have uncovered in the SB archive?

That’s a hard one. A personal favourite is the set model for the Jasper Conran Swan Lake, I always knew how detailed the set models were but this one is extra special.

Some of the strange things that I've come across in the archive include mortgage papers, a love letter and a Dancing Pineapple costume from the 2001 production of The Snowman.

What advice would you give to a budding archivist?

Experience is key, and the wider a variety of experience you can get the better as it’s not just about dusty books and white cotton gloves.

What’s your ‘get up and go’ song?

Razzle Dazzle from the musical Chicago, this number always makes me feel like I can achieve anything I set my mind to!