The Doner Auditorium Digital Preservation Project saves the unique history left by South Dakota State University theatre students in the auditorium’s backstage.

Since the early 1980s, student graffiti accumulated in Doner Auditorium’s green room, makeup room, sound booth, and other backstage areas. The walls, the ceilings, and even the pipes held the inscriptions, which included signatures, dates, season lineup schedules, quotes, and favorite lines from plays performed in the auditorium.

Doner Auditorium was built in 1912 as part of Morrill Hall (formerly called the Administration building). It held an estimated 400 Prairie Repertory Theatre (PRT) and State University Theatre (SUT) shows. When the new SDSU Performing Arts Center opened in 2019, Doner Auditorium ceased being used for university productions. The auditorium will eventually be repurposed, taking with it this historical record of theatre student perspectives.

A digital replica of Doner Auditorium’s backstage was created by SDSU Archives & Special Collections. The staff developed an online exhibit with photographs and scans of the rooms, meticulous transcriptions of the graffiti content, and digitized materials from the Archives’ Theatre Collection such as play programs and photographs.

The exhibit provides a behind-the-scenes view of the theatre program, and it highlights the work and lives of the students themselves, not just the characters they portrayed onstage. Theatre scholars, students, and fans can explore the exhibit to study theatre trends in areas such as stage design, costumes, and graphic design of publicity materials. The exhibit can also be a tool for theatre instructors to boost interest in theatre participation among youth.

The Doner Auditorium Digital Preservation Project was made possible by a South Dakota Humanities Council grant and private donations.