Included in the McNab New Zealand Collection at Dunedin Public Libraries is a little-known collection of ephemera. ‘Ephemera’ is a term for printed material originally produced to provide details about specific events, and intended for temporary use rather than long-term preservation.
Ephemera is collectable because it enhances information found in longer-lasting documents to provide a fuller picture of life at a given point in time. In addition, ‘throwaway’ literature of this type sometimes has considerable visual appeal, combining text - in a wide array of period fonts - with images and photographs.
The bulk of the McNab Ephemera Collection consists of twentieth century theatre programmes, although some date back to the late nineteenth century and feature theatres which have long since disappeared from the Dunedin streetscape. Numerous programmes are for local productions but many are for visiting musicians, singers, theatre and dance troupes from within New Zealand or from abroad.
The current Reed Gallery exhibition showcases a selection of visually-stimulating highlights from this diverse collection of theatrical ephemera. The emphasis is on Dunedin’s vibrant twentieth century theatrical heritage from the Edwardian era until the gradual demise of its entertainment centrepiece, His Majesty’s Theatre, in the early 1970s.
The theatrical ephemera on display is of a widely variegated hue, promoting drama, comedy, grand and light opera, musical theatre, Vaudeville, variety shows and other entertainments. Rare programmes for wartime concerts by military troupes also make an appearance, along with materials publicising visits to Dunedin by prominent entertainers.