What follows is the unpublished text of an interview conducted via e-mail, solicited early in 2001 by Dr. Gianni Cicali for an e-zine called La Centaura, to have been published and hosted in Italy. I append it, along with a bibliography of our work at the UW, for the edification of those who may have an interest in the early years of desk top computing.
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| An Unpublished Interview with
Jack Wolcott, University of Washington
Seattle Washington, USA.
Copyright 2001, John R. Wolcott
JRW: When I was a boy in the 9th grade, I took a class in architectural and mechanical drawing. This was the beginning of my interest in technology generally, and in architecture, specifically. I worked for a year for the Rockefeller Foundation in Williamsburg Virginia as a draftsman, making drawings of the restored 17th and 18th century buildings. My interest in theatre, which began in 1949 while I was in high school, was always directed toward theatre technology. My first jobs were as a lighting designer, and I was quite adept as a journeyman carpenter.
When I went to study for my doctorate in theatre history in 1964, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. John H.McDowell, a life-long specialist in European Renaissance theatre architecture and theatre machinery. Following World War II, Dr. McDowell created an enormous microfilm repository of historical European theatre documents, culled from museums, libraries and private collections from all over the Continent and the British Isles - several hundred thousand images, I believe. Coming from a background in theatrical production in the commercial theatre, I fell in love with this collection. For me, it was an awakening, an introduction to a vintage wine or an exotic dish completely unknown before.
As a result of my earlier training, and my work with Dr. McDowell and Dr. John Morrow at The Ohio State University Theatre Collection, my focus as a theatre historian from the outset was on the technology and architecture of the theatre. Over the years, I became increasingly interested in how developments in the technology of a culture, at any moment in time, were reflected in the arts. I published research on how gas for illumination was generated in the early theatres of the United States, for example, and what effect this new light source had on theatrical scenery ("The Genesis of Gas Lights," Theatre Research/Recherches Theatrales, Vol.XII, No I, 1972; pp. 72-87.) Another article dealt with the manufacture of 18th and 19th century pigments, and the effect that these might have had on scene painting ("The Scene Painter's Palette: 1750-1835," Theatre Journal, Vol.33, No. 4, 1981; pp. 477-488.)
While I was at The Ohio State University, I was introduced to television production by James Lynch, who for many years had been the director of production at the National Broadcasting Company in New York City. Television would play an important role in my research and teaching for the next 35 years. In fact, I presently work in a video production company, having left the university in 1998.
In 1979, when I first heard of computers small enough to put onto a desk, my intuition told me that this technology would become, in time, an important part of our culture and of the arts. And this, of course, was long before IBM and Microsoft gave us "desktop" computing. The first office computer I ever saw was a Radio Shack model TRS-80. It took up nearly half of the desk top, and used an eight inch floppy disk. It had 32kb of RAM, and had to be programmed in BASIC to do anything graphical. But clearly it had incredible potential.