Professor Chris Bannerman: Good morning everyone. Welcome to Somerset House and thank you for coming today. My name is Chris Bannerman and I’m head of the research centre called ResCen, Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts.
I will say more about today and the reasons for ResCen hosting this event a bit later. But my first task is challengingly simple: I have to introduce a man who needs no introduction. We’re delighted to have Lord Smith of Finsbury, or Chris Smith as we know him, to open this gathering today. And, in trying to say something about the man who needs no introduction, perhaps I can make a couple of observations. One is that he served as a Member of Parliament for over twenty years. I believe he is one of the very few MPs, not wishing to cast aspersions on others, who left the House of Commons held in the deepest affection by a very wide range of people. Of course, for us in the performing arts, his time at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport was particularly important. In fact, he was the first Secretary of State for the department, so I think we can call him a kind of founding father of the DCMS. And for those of you who are interested in hill walking, he’s also a compulsive Munro Bagger – I read recently that he’s the only MP, or certainly the first MP, to have bagged all the Munros. Those unfamiliar with the practice should know that a Munro is a Scottish mountain of 3,000 feet and above, and that there are 284 of them waiting to be bagged.
One of the most important reasons we have him here today is because of his present work as director of the seminal and highly innovative Clore Leadership Programme, of which he is also the ‘founding father’. This proves beyond doubt that the man is virtually unstoppable. So I’m delighted to have Chris here to open the proceedings. Ladies and gentlemen, Lord Smith of Finsbury.
Lord Smith of Finsbury: Thank you very much, Chris. I would say that your introduction was rather better than the last time I was introduced, which was at a dinner. When we got to the coffee stage and the cups had been put out, the chair of the event turned to me and said, do you want to speak now or shall we let them carry on enjoying themselves for a while!
It’s a pleasure to be here to help set your day of discussions off, I hope, on a good footing. I have to leave after I’ve spoken, because we’re interviewing all day for our third group of Clore fellows. One of the remarkable things we find each year when we go through the process of interviewing applicants for our Clore fellowships is the astonishing array of genuine talent that there is in the cultural sector here in the UK. It’s a rather life-affirming process of rediscovering each year that our sector, the arts, and particularly the performing arts, contains so many really good, totally engaged and interesting people.
Now, the theme of today’s discussions is the role that the performing arts have to play within our society, our economy, our civilisation. I wish to start by quoting Robert Kennedy, who once wrote, “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their playing. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit, nor our courage, neither our wisdom, nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” That’s always seemed to me a rather good way of putting the very simple proposition that the arts as a whole – the cultural activity and life of a country – matters probably more than anything else in determining and shaping a country’s civilisation. And it does more than that. Of course what the arts give us is not just that which makes civilised life tick, but also that which gives personal meaning to our lives as individuals.
Where the performing arts have something rather special to offer to that equation is that they combine not just the things that all the arts do. They speak to our imaginations; they move our souls. They take us to places where joy and sorrow and solace and tension exist. They tell us stories. They haunt our feelings and our emotions. They do all of that. But what the performing arts do additionally is to add that essential ingredient of immediacy, because the performing arts give us the lived-through performance. They give us something that cannot be painted or pasted on a wall; they are not preserved forever in aspic. It’s the immediacy of performance that provides its added dimension. Among the questions you will be exploring today is “Is it possible to bottle that immediacy?” Is it possible to capture that ineffable moment and do something to disseminate it more widely, in a way that doesn’t simply place it in aspic, but which perhaps gives something of the feel of the moment, of what performance is all about? The exploration of that conundrum, I think, is going to supply the truly fascinating aspect of your discussions, and I’m looking forward very much to hearing more about that.
Among other things that we’ve realised over recent years, of course, is that the performing arts don’t speak to our souls alone. They do other, rather important things also. I realise I’m about to tread on dangerous territory here, because there’s a vibrant debate raging at present about art for art’s sake as opposed to art for education’s sake or, indeed, art for social regeneration’s sake or art for the economy’s sake. I don’t believe there’s any contra-distinction between art for art’s sake and art for the sake of other purposes. Because those other purposes happen to be spin-offs from the central purpose of art, which is art. And the impact that art has on the human heart. If, in addition to that central purpose, the arts happen to be wonderful educative tools for kids when they’re growing up; if they happen to be things that people can get so enthused by, so enraptured by, so caught up in, that they help a process of social regeneration, and if they happen to provide a useful boost for what I would call the creative economy – currently growing at twice the rate of the economy as a whole – as well as providing brilliant performance, then that, to my mind, is an added bonus. It’s not something to be derided; it’s not something to be dismissed: it’s something to be welcomed. Provided of course that it doesn’t take over the entire picture. A further dimension to your exploration today about dissemination is going to be whether some of those purposes, particularly the purposes of education and economy, can be enhanced by a process of wider distribution in a digital age of the quality of performance.
So there are some big issues that you’re going to be discussing today. I wish I could be here – well, no, I don’t actually. I’m glad, in fact, that I’m going to be interviewing a series of brilliant candidates for Clore fellowships, although I wish I could be in both places at the same time.
I’ll finish with a rather nice thought. When I was asked to be what was then Secretary of State for National Heritage back in May 1997, the day after the general election, I was summoned into the Cabinet Office. And there’s the Prime Minister, sitting at the Cabinet table. He asks you to be a member of the cabinet, and you don’t say no. Well, at least you didn’t at that point! Up to that moment, I had been the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, so it was a bit surprising to be told I was going to Heritage. I had the presence of mind to ask two questions: the first was, “Do we have to go ahead with the Millennium Dome?” I didn’t get the answer I wanted on that one. The second question, however, was, “Can I please change the name of the department?” I wanted the department to be a department for culture. Heritage, important as it is, represents only a tiny bit of what culture actually is all about. Eventually the Prime Minister said, “Yes, OK, provided we can agree on the title”. I recall chatting to a friend just after that, saying I wanted it to be seen as the Department for Culture. And she said, “Oh, isn’t that a bit brave? I don’t think the Brits are ready for Culture”. Then she said, “If you talk to most Brits they think culture is something you grow tomatoes in,” before reflecting for a moment. “But actually, you know, it’s something you grow people in.” And that concept of culture – as something you grow people in – really stuck with me. I think it’s absolutely true, and even truer of the performing arts than it is of culture as a whole. So good luck with your discussions today. And just remember that the end product of all your discussing has to be about growing people. Thank you very much.
CB: My next job is also a brief introduction, for my colleague Susan Melrose, who is Professor of Performance Arts at Middlesex University. Susan is a very unusual academic in a number of ways. Although she is from the university sector, I would say she is not of the university sector as her thinking encompasses performance and performing, the creation and the creating. I think today she will demonstrate that fact for you. I have always admired her ability to see not just the surfaces of performance, but also the processes that bring the performance into being, looking into what I am tempted to call the living, breathing heart of the performing arts. And she will now provoke some thinking about performance and knowledge.
Professor Susan Melrose: So thank you to the different Chris’s. I’ve been taxed with being provocative for fifteen minutes, but I’m not sure that I can do that. In fact, I’m normally only provocative in Wales! I’m not sure that I know what Christopher’s “deep into the living, breathing heart” comment means, but that has always been my difficulty: I can’t see past surfaces. So here are a few points on expert art-making practices as research.
“Not yet, and already no longer”: loitering with intent between the expert practitioner at work, and the archive
A few points on expert arts-making practices as research, time, the university, and the archive:
1. A key issue raised in the mid-1980s, with regard to the archive, was that of the archive as ‘mnemotechnic device’, focused on the attempt to preserve ‘signs of a life’ that are already lost (Lyotard 1988/1991). According to that tradition what is ‘lost’ is the artwork’s constitutive enigma, its particular struggles with “resistant materialities (Hayles 1999); and what is retained is a synoptic re-ordering of the artwork’s similarly constitutive technique, its technical aspect, its technicity. Faced with that loss, the archive as mnemotechnic device, it was argued in the 1980s, would tend then to provide not so much a record of expert practitioner product, as a ‘testimony to the power to conserve of the curators’ themselves.
2. On that basis, my second point concerns what I’ll call arts-practitioner compositional processes, in time. Expert composition remains a curiously under-theorised notion in expert performance-making, despite the interest in composition, similarly in the 1980s, of the otherwise very widely cited Deleuze: “What is a composition, and how does it differ from an organization? A composition is itself an organization, but one that is in the process of disintegrating. Beings disintegrate while ascending into the light”. (Deleuze 1981/2003). What I need to distinguish here, in terms of composition, and with the notion of archiving expert process in mind, are the times of composition, of making new work over time, not least where a professional deadline comes into play: first is the time before making the work (when it is thought on, in some manner or another); second are the times of making itself; third is the time of finishing, and fourth is the time of the ‘finished work’, when it has emerged, and been identified as such, and – so to speak – put ‘out there’. And then comes the time of the archive, which tends, explicitly or implicitly, formally to thematise and allow reflection on time past (hence Lyotard’s “mnemotechnic device”): the archive as mnemotechnic device tends to focus a user on an other’s work already made. It tends, in older tradition, to intervene not only after the production of the work, but after its evaluation (and selection) by others.
The archive’s timing, if I might be crudely reductive here, has tended to highlight product rather than process; it tends to highlight signature, rather than professional collaboration; and it tends to take onboard (to have taken onboard) judgement by performance’s others. I am explicitly raising the issue of the evaluation of the ‘finished work’ here because this issue begs another set of questions, specific to the times of art practitioner compositional processes: these are questions of when and how, and on what sorts of bases, the artist knows that the (or her, or his) work is emerging as such, and will be finished. And then, as Lyotard has asked: what is the nature of the work that finishes the work, what is its specificity (since in my experience it is highly specific), and when and how does it take/has it taken place? These final questions may well seem imponderable, viewed from outside; but the decisive gesture, and the judgement that the work is finished (or ‘ready’), happen, even if their particulars tend to be felt or sensed. The event can be identified as such, even by expert practitioner more interested – as many are – in what remains imponderable in arts-expert practice.
3. I want to remain, for a moment, with this issue of time, in order to consider, very briefly, what I’ll call the irrepressible drive, of the archivist and the academic, to inscribe, describe, interpret, hence to practise temporal closure on what might otherwise be described as the work’s openness, its residual unfinishedness, to the practitioners concerned; its necessary compromises, its constitutive dynamism, and its fragility - hence its status as non-identical with the perspectives of academic and archivist alike. Confronted for the first time by the work, Lyotard wrote in the 1980s, we are disarmed – if it works for us – and what follows is that in some haste, the academic or critic “writes twenty or one hundred pages [in the attempt] to pick up the [mind’s] pieces, and one puts the plot together again”, but in terms specific to the academic or critic’s own perspective.
That effect of breaking and picking up again, Lyotard continued in the late-1980s, “owes nothing to the place [the work] can take (and which in a sense it never takes) in the intrication of sensory positions and intelligible meanings”(my emphasis). In a sense, not least for the expert practitioner, the work participates in these but never takes ‘its’ place in them. Now, if intelligible meanings are not uppermost in an experience of the work, then it follows that in the archive, that work will need to be seen, in turn, to “make[ ] an appeal to presence beyond representation”. On that basis, “all one can expect from it is for it not to prevent the state of letting go by making itself too prominent” (Lyotard, 1988/1991).
But I want at this precise point to put Lyotard’s own contrasting view, with regard to the work, its closure, and the archive: what are the implications if it is in fact the case that the artwork (and in this context, performance) – like the archive - already involves “memorisation or conservation”, because these are constitutive aspects of composition? Any work of art, on this basis, is “already necessarily an archive”. It is already “a spatio-temporal organization, ‘blocked’, in some sense, to permit repetition and transmission”. If this is indeed the case, then is nothing at all alarming in the fact that the archiving of ‘finished works’ should take place, should take its place. ‘The work’, in these terms, is already “territorialized”, in Deleuzian terms, at that precise moment when it is judged to be ready, when it has achieved its third-person status as work. The archive, then, “far from being an extra [layer] … applied to spontaneous works to ensure their transmission and conservation”, serves, instead, in the best of cases, to replicate and to foreground something of the work’s already-existing “relation of mind to time and to space”.
I would argue that even where performance work is identified as ‘new’, or ‘challenging’, it tends to remain consistent with – by irresistibly citing them – certain of the disciplinary conventions that inform it and on which basis others identify it. ‘New dance’ retains, by rearticulating them, certain of those conventions, however much it also proceeds to confront and/or elaborate them. The event status of the performance, meanwhile, is achieved through what might be called compositionally-specific repetition, which both marks temporally-significant moments, and allows foregrounding of other aspects ‘against’ that background of consistency-through-repetition. A further point might be made here, with regard to the emergent work in time: at that point where it achieves its object-status (‘the work’; ‘it’), it might well no longer be identical with ‘the thing itself’ that drives the expert practitioner as artist. The work, at this moment in time, is no longer the artist’s ‘thing itself’, but a momentary and incomplete instantiation of the artist’s own ongoing enquiry into what Lyotard identifies as that particular “relation of mind to time and to space”. That drive, as far as the professional artist is concerned (but not academics or students, whose drive tends to be differently directed), is effectively existential. That is, she ‘has to’ make work; but each apparently ‘finished work’, from this point of view, is no longer necessarily identical with the artist’s ongoing enquiry - whence her or his renewed focus on the next work (she or he is, in this sense, a futurologist (Massumi 2002)) rather than the last one/s. The work in the archive (and the ‘archivable’), in this sense, is no longer the expert practitioner’s ‘thing’: it has broken with the artist, ‘gone public’, and others have intervened in its evaluation. Those others, often, are expert spectators and archivists.
4. Two further linked points emerge, however, from Lyotard’s apparently archive-affirming observation: the first is the matter of what philosophers have called “spectator theories of knowledge” (Rosenthal 1986), and ‘spectator knowledge positions’, which inform much written performance analysis and critical reflection. The second is the tendency, promoted in Performance Studies in the university, to mistake effects for causes - to mistake performance effects, as experienced by spectators, for performance-making causes, specific to expert performance-makers. Spectators, as the term suggests, see what they can see, but curiously enough as far as performance disciplines are concerned, they are encouraged to speculate; and they are expected - and apparently expect - to seem to ‘see more’ (e.g. ‘human’ characters, rather more than actors; purportedly ‘psychological’ interiorities, as much as/inferred from exteriority). And ‘the work’ masterfully (or cunningly) triggers in spectators their agreement to produce the rest, generally in terms of a sign-posting ‘in the work’. What the spectator can be ‘made to’ contribute ‘to the work’ need not, then, take its place in the highly economical economy of art-making. In not a few instances, what’s more, spectators will seem to see (as in “I see!”) what practitioners may not have seen, do not/do not yet see in their own work on their own terms; and this ‘not-yet-seen’, of the expert practitioner, might well include the enigmatic, to which I referred earlier. What, of this pattern or seeing/seen/not seen/not yet seen, should be included in the archive? Who is equipped to and ‘should’ legislate on that inclusion/exclusion?
When we bring the time of making into the equation, however, it needs to be pointed out that even expert spectator/archivists literally can not see the multiple and different aspects of the making processes, nor even where expert decisions come from. If there are certain sorts of triggers ‘in the work’, planted there by expert practitioners, it is also the case that apparently ‘the same trigger’, part of a largely visual economy in the case of spectating, is non-identical with what practitioner-decision-makers see or intend. The latter work, primarily, instead, under the pressure of a deadline (a nice metaphor, this), in the realm of the material and of energy-sources, maintenance, and exploitation, and achieve this through a series of attempts, failures, and compromises. A Jungian analyst, as expert spectator, and similarly a feminist, will tend to ‘see more’, and do more with, what is ‘seen’ (by activating a number of retained interpretative apparatuses specific to the Jungian or feminist traditions), than does a practitioner who lacks or chooses not to engage that competence. Who then should archive ‘the work’ of expert practitioners? And when, precisely?
In the case of spectators substituting effects for causes, and mistaking the one for the other, you may be aware that there is a long ‘knowledge tradition’ that authorises this mistaking of the one – available to spectators - for the other; and reception theory, in and after the 1980s, re-authorised this sort of perspective and activity, lauding the supposed ‘creativity’ of the spectator. According again to Lyotard, writing in the 1980s, established rationalist tradition views “every event in the world” as “the effect of a cause”. “[R]eason”, according to that tradition, is understood to “consist… in determining that cause”, by “rationalizing the given and neutralizing the future” (Lyotard, “Time Today”,1988). Let’s retain the notions of the given and the future here, and of rationalisation, for obvious reasons.
If much performance analysis and critical writing, taught in the university, is informed by spectator theories of knowledge, and entails the rationalisation, by expert spectators, of the given, and thereby the neutralisation of the future; and if much performance analysis still consists in the attempt to deduce (imagined, practitioner) causes from (real, spectator-experienced) performance effects, my question is this: what might a “practitioner theory of knowledge”, or ‘practitioner-theoretical practices’, consist of, and where and when do they work their work? . Second – if we are actually concerned with these – how might expert spectator/archivists ‘better’ engage with performance-making causes? Next, what are the theories of expert composition that apply to an expert-practitioner-theoretical engagement? Who has/should have access to these, when and to what ends? If the expert archivist is also an expert spectator, positioned after the event of expert performance-making is over, my next question is this: to what extent, and how, can we avoid training her to continue to make those same, long-authorised and ‘rationalist’ mistakes?
5. Performance-making practices, as far as I have been able to tell, even when they are individually owned and individually signed, tend to be collaborative, negotiated between heterogeneous practitioner undertakings, and different types of expertise; they tend to a significant degree to be negotiated live, on the ground; they tend to take onboard the impact of contingent factors, of a noetic creative-problem-solving that seems to come from a nowhere of rational thought; and of happy as well as unhappy accident. But they are also conditioned and developed, immediately after, through the different logics of production and the production values that apply. They turn, significantly, and at particular stages, on discipline-specific coping strategies, which no writer, to my knowledge, has theorised; and at a later stage their emergence depends on that expert thematisation, by the signature practitioner, that allows a third person ‘take’ on what is emerging (the work as ‘it’). They depend, as well, on what I have called the operations of expert or professional intuition (which are significantly different, in turn, from everyday intuitions, with which others confuse them).
What I find interesting about the constitutive operations of expert intuition, in the making process, is that they are immediately subject/subjected to the range of production logics that apply in the collaborative situation – which means, vitally, that they disappear as such. Disappeared as such, they cannot, then, be identified by expert spectators, who have access only to their outcome. They can only be guessed at, well or less well, through the apparatuses to which a spectator, conventionally, has access. How might we archive the operations of expert intuition, accident, contingency, and the constitutive impact of production logics, and their ongoing negotiation, in one or another collaborative performance-making process? How, if we cannot, can we continue to identify archiving as practitioner-friendly?
6. All performance-making processes are relational, by which I mean that they are calculated at the macro-level but also micro-logically, on the presence of an imagined spectator, materially positioned (“right there”). The constitutive relationality of performance-making processes, and of the performance event, tends to mean that performance is neither here nor there, but in more than two places, and differently, at once. In spite of the popularity of some of the excesses of phenomenology, I am prepared to say that the experience of spectating, in the event, is nothing at all ‘like’ the experiences of performance-making and performing, in - and in the lead-up to - the event. If the viewer might experience the work, in the event, as an “aggregate of sensations”, an aggregate of percept and affect (in Deleuze’s terms: e.g., Deleuze 1981), it would be folly to argue that the performance-making practitioner similarly experiences the work and the making of the work in those terms. My sixth point, on this sort of basis, is a concern with the systematic under-representation (in performance writing and archiving) of the experience of the developing work of the professional practitioner, of the expertise of the practitioner, and how these operate. I’d want to add here the curious fact that 93% of texts published on Performance Studies, Dance Studies and the Performing Arts, over the past few decades, have failed to include, in their index pages, a single reference to expertise; they similarly omit from those index pages any reference to the professional; they are equally reticent when its comes to the term ‘discipline’, or they openly prefer to it the terms ‘inter-disciplinary’, ‘inter-disciplinarity’, along with the ‘anti-disciplinary’ or the ‘post-disciplinary’.
7. The expert or professional arts practitioner, on the other hand, is a curious professional, not least when she is compared to other professionals, like the doctor, the lawyer, or the professor. Unlike these other professionals, each of whom might be said to have internalised her or his professional expertise, and to hold it then within her, the live (by which I mean living) arts-practitioner is deemed publicly to be only as good as her last and her next work. And it seems that she is also required to let go of that work, and cannot, in that sense, ‘hold’ or internalise it. Others (spectators, critics, archivists) hold it. Hence I myself might well be permitted, in the professional scheme of things, to profess – or ‘hold forth’ – on the work of a ‘Richard Layzell’, or a ‘Shobana Jeyasingh’, or a ‘Rosemary Butcher’; and not simply that, but to be paid, precisely, for that holding and professing. I can become an expert on ‘Rosemary Butcher’ – i.e., the name as the past work – were I never to have met the practitioner; and I can bring forth, on that basis, always biased (or simply ‘positioned’) accounts of her work – or at least, of her past work. ‘Rosemary Butcher’, then, is both an absence and a being in the part tense; and what I profess, with regard to that past work, I grasp from the opportunistic position of an expert spectator who cannot make the work but can seem to word it to and for others. That wording, which has its currency in the university and the professions of writing, at least, is, however, significantly ‘unlike’ ‘the work’ – which in Butcher’s case and in that of the ResCen artist-researchers, will not repeat itself, even if it remains wholly consistent and coherent with the ongoing aesthetic enquiry of the artist concerned, and the aesthetic of the discipline or disciplines.
My sense of ResCen’s calculation, in these terms, is not so much that the practitioner ‘has made work’ (this is a truism: the ‘expert practitioner’ is an identity attributed only on the basis of manifest creative expertise), but rather that she will make new work to the criteria that apply to the professional in the wider arts context; not that she has made work funded through the university, but that she will continue to make work which addresses criteria, including funding criteria, specific to the wider arts communities. ResCen’s calculation, as I understand it, is a gamble with and in time: the gamble is not whether or not this new work ‘is research’ in the university’s conventional understanding of the term; rather the gamble is that in making new work the artists concerned will expand on, and sharpen (and archive?) answers to the question of what research into professional practices and aesthetics, from an expert-practitioner-theoretical position, ‘should’ look like, and might do, in the university.Bibliography
Deleuze G., Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. D. Smith, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), (first published in French, Editions de la Diffˇrence, 1981).
Hayles N. K., How we Became Posthuman, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).
Lyotard J-F., The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, trans. G. Bennington and R. Bowlby, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991).
Massumi B., Parables For the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2002).
Rosenthal S., Speculative Pragmatism, (Open Court, 1986).
CB: I’ve taken a bold decision to have some images passing by on screen while I’m speaking. They are archive images on a loop, drawn together thanks to the Theatre Museum, which we’ll just let pass by as I speak. Never put pictures on a screen while you’re talking, they say; however, I am going to do that very thing.
This day is a departure for ResCen, the research centre at Middlesex University of which I am head, because in the past we have focused almost exclusively on the creative processes of a selected group of artists. Today we’re considering issues that arise from the documentation of live performance, a change of emphasis influenced by an opportunity to access funds for an event that would look across a wider range. This, then, is not a core activity for ResCen; rather, it is a one-off event through which we’re hoping to contribute to a very important debate. When Sir Christopher Frayling cited John Ruskin in last year’s lecture to the Royal Society of the Arts, he addressed the issue of ‘the record’ and noted that the most reliable record lay in the artworks and culture of a civilisation. Or, to be more precise, his words were: “The book of our art is our only trustworthy book”. This is gratifying to those of us in the arts, but when considering the performing arts, as opposed to Chris Frayling’s visual arts disciplines, one is bound to ask, “Where is our book? Where is our record?” The impact of performance must not be underestimated – it is immediate and profound. But we are also conditioned by ephemerality and once a performance is over, it very often trickles into obscurity, or perhaps occasionally acquires an enhanced mystique. The immediate ‘splash’ quickly diminishes the further we are from that initial wave. This is the nature of the lived presence of live performance and those working in this field often accept, and indeed welcome, this fact. On an occasion such as this, I must also acknowledge the wide range of very good work that has been done, much of it by those of you in this room, in gathering, selecting and presenting whatever evidence is available of past performances and performance practices, offering us a ‘record’ of our own. This has offset the blessing and curse of ephemerality somewhat, but I believe that the time is right for a reconsideration of what has been achieved and what the future opportunities may be available to extend this work.
In developing the ideas for the seminar, I had a number of discussions with a broad range of people. Some of their points stayed in my mind, among which was the comment that the documentation of performance is very much a specialised interest, one that scholars, students, researchers and archivists would find it interesting, but which would not engage with the wider world. Well, this might be true; and it would still be worth doing. But the point is worth examining as arguably, it fits into the ‘chicken and egg’ category as the limited number of those interested might be the result of the very limited access to such resources that’s been available to date.
A personal anecdote might illustrate this point. Some years ago I investigated my own family history and I went to Scotland to paw through dusty microfiche files, largely undisturbed. This took place about two decades ago when perhaps only a few thousand people did this sort of thing each year. Now, hundreds of thousands of people are learning the details of their family histories, because family history is available at the click of a mouse; meanwhile, television has popularised this interest in genealogy. Clearly the availability of information is intimately and directly linked to the level of demand.
Another comment that surfaced in discussing today’s theme concerned the use of digital technology to increase access to the history of the performing arts. It was noted that museums and galleries currently face huge challenges in realising the digitisation of their present collections. The implication of this may have been that the performing arts would have to join a rather lengthy queue and wait some time before benefiting from digital technologies. If that was that implication, then my response would be that this analysis represents a profound complacency about the current situation. The instability and fragility of our practices and performances are intrinsic to our domain of knowledge unlike for example, the Elgin Marbles which may well be here in a hundred years’ time, ‘here’ not necessarily meaning in Britain, but here with us somewhere on the planet, perhaps even in Greece. But performances, even those delivered within the last twelve months, often disappear without a trace despite the fact that many have been supported by public funds which all of us have provided through our taxes. And yet today we do have choices: the camcorder is virtually ubiquitous in western societies and we are downloading music, radio programmes, and moving images onto our iPods. In addition to such highly personalised use, this material can be made available to a wide range of people worldwide, as long as they have internet access. The international reach of the internet is a key feature and countries such as South Korea may be most broadband-connected country in the world with many of its East Asian neighbours not far behind. Is it really acceptable that in the UK today someone in Liverpool wishing to see an archived performance must telephone London to make an appointment weeks in advance, then travel to and across the capital to sit in front of a screen?
I recognise that, Ironically, the growing ease of accessing and of course, copying digital information can become a barrier and is particularly worrying to those whose livelihoods depend on payment for such access. Equally there are those who embrace such opportunities and movements such as Copyleft and Creative Commons are dedicated to sharing resources as widely as possible. The latter has informed the BBC’s development of its creative archive. Therefore one of our challenges in the performing arts is to find ways to improve access to the history of live performance. And if we are to make best use of this ready access, we need to know what is available. Despite some very good initiatives and some very committed work, I’m not certain that there is an easy way to discover what is available and where it is. I would be happy to be proved wrong; indeed, many of people here today could prove me wrong but my experiences of searching the internet for items in preparation for today’s event did not inspire confidence. While I can use the internet to access easily all sorts of information about books and journals, as well as accessing individual articles and chapters from books, there appears to be no comprehensive way to search for individual items in the performing arts.
As well as discovering and comprehensively cataloguing what is already available, one person who advised me on this event proposed an amnesty, so that anyone could produce the videos they have stored under their bed so that publicly available copies could be made. This may seem bizarre, but it would be a process very similar to one undertaken by the BBC, who said in effect: “I’m sorry we’ve lost many of our past programmes. Anybody who has copies at home please send them to us. We’ll copy them and then return them to you.”
Of course, our putative process would be made more complex by issues of ownership. The BBC could claim, in many cases, that they owned the original material. I think the person who advised me on this probably has a fairly impressive collection of videos under their bed: and this may turn out to be a very rich resource. But in envisioning a future in which such records are widely available, we may wish to discuss what an appropriate document of a performance actually looks like. We’ve had some thinking already about that, and there may be some here today who believe that there is no such thing, or that we could make better use of resources by documenting process. And we may wish to ask questions about selection: what are we documenting, and what are we not documenting. These are the questions that began to emerge during the preparation of this seminar and they cohered around four areas which I will turn to in a moment. First there are two over-arching questions, which is really why we are here today: can we make the present situation better, and if so, how do we do that?” We could say that more money needs to be allocated to this area. That may well be very true, but it may also be true that we can make some savings by working together more effectively, pooling resources and demonstrating our commitment to the whole sector. The Ecology Model should, I believe, be our guide in this. We are all connected, even if the connections are not always clear. What is good for one area of our work will eventually feed into other areas; together, we will make better progress than if we were separated. And if we have no visible history, how can we make progress?
To return to the four key areas, the first might be called the Catalogue. What do we have? Do we know what we have? Is the catalogue complete? Would an amnesty be practical and yield important new material? The second might be the Document. What is the nature of the document? How do we document, what do we document? The third is Strategic Collection. How can we make documents that better represent the diversity of work today? And the fourth is the very important area of Access. How can the sector and the public gain better access to what is and will be available?
These questions have emerged in preparing for our discussion. You may decide today that they are not the right questions, but I hope they will stimulate your involvement in a very real way. This is because, as perhaps you have seen, the plans for today include a panel discussion. As a group you will hear the contributions and you will have a chance to respond, and then the plan simply states ‘The Open Space’. This open space is your space. We have rooms for four breakout groups, and we need the whole group to decide before lunch what will be discussed or to decide that four breakout groups are not required. I was advised by someone, who should be nameless – but his name is Graham Devlin, in case this doesn’t work – that this technique ensures people do not leave an event of this nature wishing that other topics had been discussed. In this morning’s final plenary session, therefore, you will propose topics for discussion and agree them. If we then divide into four groups, each group will select a chair and a rapporteur and address the selected topics. Finally, we will report back to each other in the closing plenary.
First the Panel presentations and we begin with Richard Alston.
Richard Alston: I feel qualified only to talk as an artist who has been involved in certain ways with archiving other artists’ work. I believe it’s absolutely true that the way I have developed my work has involved what has been available to me in all sorts of ways to study from archives. There’s a film presently on general cinema release, Ballets Russes, based on archive material. The thing that interests me is that its strength and, I think, appeal to a cinema-going public, is the film’s oral history: the people in it. The film’s archive material is patchy, and there are some very important figures missing. And yet Freddie Franklin carries the whole thing, talking and gossiping for about two hours. It is absolutely riveting, even to someone who knows nothing about the Ballets Russes. I think of live performance as being messy and lively and shifting around, which is why, in that movie, Freddie Franklin is the living thing. Some of the film clips of dancing are very old and of poor quality, but the talking actually makes it live. That interests me, because there’s not a lot of performance in the film. It is performance that, to me, has been so important to have available from what I guess is called the archive.
It is no great secret to anyone who knows my work that three choreographers certainly have had a huge influence on me, one of them being Frederick Ashton. I was lucky enough to know him when I was director at Rambert, which made it a very personal thing; also, I was able, particularly in those days, to see his ballets. The artist whose work I have seen most in my life is Merce Cunningham – no question about that. I can’t imagine how many of his pieces I’ve seen since first watching his company in, I think, 1966 as a student, then as a choreographer and as a friend. When I thought about today, it was interesting to recall that the artist whose work I have studied most completely is Fred Astaire. When I lived in New York I went once a week to a repertory cinema to watch a Fred Astaire movie. I studied that man’s duets like those of no other artist: I know every step; I know exactly what he did in all the old films with Ginger. I didn’t bother to see so much of the later stuff, but I’ll stand up and count myself as an obsessive! And that really was one of my obsessions, indulged from what was an archive, the Hollywood archive of duets by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a most extraordinary resource.
When I was at Ballet Rambert I was asked by the board to invite the people I most wanted to choreograph for the company. They said, “Just go to town, think of anyone you really, really want to choreograph for Rambert. I thought, “This is nuts, but OK”. I wrote to various people I admired and thought were wonderful, among them Trisha Brown, and she sent back a postcard, which said, “Why not – let’s talk”. We began a process of looking at her work, which becomes changed and adapted in performance more and more elaborately. We then tried to find a way of finding a piece that could be taught to another company: at that point no-one other than the Trisha Brown Dance Company had performed Trisha’s work. Eventually she decided with her assistant, Diane Madden, that she could research and put together a quartet called Opal Loop , which she did. We began a lengthy and interesting process where the four dancers from Trisha’s company who had danced that piece came to London and taught, one-on-one, four dancers from Rambert. The four Rambert dancers who learnt the material then went to New York to work with Trisha’s company and on the piece. There was also a lot of dialogue going on. At the end of this long process, we gave a series of performances of a piece I was extremely happy to have in the Rambert repertoire and which, I think, has had a huge effect on many dancers who I’ve seen working since. I received another postcard from Trisha – this one said, “Dear Richard, thank you for archiving Opal Loop. At the time I thought, what on earth is she talking about. And then I began to think about what we’d actually done, about how we’d found a way of finding the material of this piece and that all pieces at Rambert were notated in Benesh Movement Notation and performances were always videoed.
At Rambert I worked very closely with Jane Pritchard, the archivist. As director, and even before then, one of the tricky things about being part of Rambert is that you have all of this history and that it’s actually part of your job, I believe, to look after it. I certainly felt involved with the history of Rambert, so another piece I feel very proud of having found some way to archive was the early version, the Rambert version, of Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. That came about through an extraordinary individual, Sally Gilmour. Sally Gilmour was a dancer who today would have been a contemporary dancer, a modern dancer. She had a very oomphy, gutsy physicality and was immensely musical. Marie Rambert, who was a strong character (and, I’m sure as many of you know, sometimes a bit of a bully), had made her dancers learn every part. Sally learnt not only the women’s parts but all the parts in Dark Elegies. She was in her late seventies or early eighties when she came to Rambert in 1980 and set this piece. And she danced around the room like a little mad thing. She was fantastic, the piece made sense and the choreologist wrote down a very detailed score at the time.
In 1987, when we considered staging Dark Elegies again, we used that score and John Showsworth, who had danced the piece when he was in Rambert, also helped. But he wanted to make certain changes remembered from later productions. For me, one of the most amazing moments was when Sally Gilmour, definitely in her eighties by then, returned at the end of the process. She watched the whole thing, and every now and then she nudged the assistant, Sally Martin, and whispered in her ear. Sally Martin said that Sally Gilmour had noticed the twelve things that had been changed, saying that “I don’t know what they are, I’ve no idea what it is, so just put on the music dear, put on the music”. And she got up and began dancing. She fumbled around and began to do something, and in every case it was what was in the score. She didn’t look at the score, but everything she did was what was in the score. And that, I think, is a fantastic aspect of dance, something very precious that performers have a physical knowledge of, which we should really value and should catch.
Finally, I have to own up. Yes, I’ve got videos under my bed! I have videos that go back to 1973, and they’re in complete chaos. But I’m really glad I have them, sometimes not actually under my bed but in an office at The Place – yes, they are, but they’re locked away! Sometimes the dancers in my company, when they’ve got a free afternoon, watch these things. I find them watching pieces that I did in the 1970s, and watching performers. It’s wonderful to me that those videos exist, and I hope to get them all transferred to DVD very quickly. As an artist, I would simply say that some of my best friends are archivists.
CB: Now we’ll go to Guy Baxter and see if he is still Richard Alston’s best friend at the end of his comments.
Guy Baxter: I do hope so. I’m Guy Baxter, archivist at the V&A Theatre Museum and also chair of the Theatre Information Group, the UK’s subject specialist network for performing arts museums. I am not entirely speaking on behalf of those organisations; this is intended as more of a personal analysis. It’s not a manifesto or a provocation, but it’s very much an overview of where I think we are in terms of archiving the performing arts and the documentation of live performance.
I want to start by making a few general points about live performance and archives. All businesses create records in the course of their work and the performing arts is no different. Unlike the product of many businesses, the finished work in live performance is transient. That’s not true of film and television, for example, where the finished work is a programme that can be recorded. In some ways, the ancillary records are actually of greater historical import. That said, not all records of performing arts need to be archived: that is, set aside for permanent preservation. And the key skill of archivists dealing with twentieth- and twenty-first century records is that of being ruthlessly selective and of knowing how to throw things away. An easy example of that might be petty-cash receipts, while a difficult example might be saying, “We can’t keep the entire administrative archive of a company that was short-lived, or that, according to our value judgement, is not important.”
Clearly, there are very tough decisions to be made. I think it’s important to make the point that, just because we cannot keep a performance itself does not mean that we can keep everything else about it as a consolation prize. The key to the past misunderstanding between archives and the performing arts is, I think, that on one hand we have the performing arts sector, which is thought of as operating only in the present day, but, in fact, is very concerned with preserving its heritage. On the other hand there is an archive sector, which increasingly, because archives have to be kept forever and continue to grow, has to be very selective in terms of what is preserved. Both sectors operate on very different timescales. If I said a theatre production was going to last for fifty years – well, there is only one that springs to mind; if I said to an archivist that these documents are only going to last for fifty years, they’d throw up their hands in horror. Fifty years is a very long time in theatre, but it’s just a fleeting moment in terms of archives.
I want to present a quick overview of where I believe the performing arts archive sector is in the UK. To give an idea of the types of organisations involved, I am going to name-check everyone here, or at least as many people as I have spotted, because I think everyone here fits into these categories. There are general repositories in the UK holding performing arts material, by which I mean they cover subject areas wider than just the performing arts, such as the British Library, the BBC, the British Film Institute, the National Portrait Gallery. These institutions often have very strong performing arts holdings, which may or may not be a priority. There are also performing arts specialist repositories. The V&A Theatre Museum, where I work, in many ways has the largest and most wide-ranging collections. In addition there are institutions in the Higher Education sector, such as the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection, the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, the National Resource Centre for Dance at the University of Surrey in Guildford and Laban in South East London, and also trusts like the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford, which have very strong holdings.
Performing arts companies hold their archives to a greater or lesser extent, whether those are videos under their beds or an archive collection such as Rambert, the Royal Opera House or the Royal National Theatre has. I will name-check a few others: Cameron Mackintosh, English National Opera and English National Ballet, institutions with have formal archives. But every performing arts company has an archive, or something they consider to be an archive, sitting in a store cupboard somewhere.
There are other repositories that might be specialists in performing arts or general repositories which have performing arts holdings, such as local authority archive or library services. And, of course, there are private collections offering greater or lesser access, the former being somewhere like the Garrick Club, the latter being those aforementioned videos under the bed that only their owner knows about. Other stakeholders include the funding bodies, researchers and the organisations set up for researchers, such as the Society for Theatre Research and the Institute of Historical Research.
I also want to look briefly at the methodologies employed in documenting performing arts, of which I have managed to think of nine. Each has its particular challenges in terms of resources, technologies, selection and duplication, but they are all being employed in the UK at the moment. These are:
Preserving the play text, the musical score or the dance notation.
Recording the fact that a performance took place, whether on a card index or in a database or published volume.
Collecting the by-products of performance (for example, programme books and publicity material; journalism, criticism and reviews; photographs; prompt scripts, designs).
Collecting objects used in or associated with a performance, (for example, costumes, make-up, property, scenery, musical instruments and stage technology items).
Preserving and documenting the built heritage of the performing arts (often forgotten, particularly the work of the Theatres’ Trust in documenting and helping to preserve theatre buildings they consider to be important).
Collecting documents and archives relating to performing arts administration, management, production and funding.
Collecting biographical information relating to individuals associated with the performing arts.
Collecting audio and video recording of performances.
Collecting oral history and other proactive documentation.
I wrote down ‘other proactive documentation’ before Richard Alston came up with the far better description of ‘pinning down the butterfly’, which is perhaps what I mean, that thing of trying to get someone’s knowledge out of their head.
I’ve called my summary ‘setting ambitious goals and achieving them’. And I’d like to thank Chris Bannerman, because he has set us some pretty ambitious goals today. I said I’m not going to deliver a manifesto, so I will not say what we are going to attempt to achieve. What I will tell you, however, is what I think we need to do if we’re going to set and achieve ambitious goals. Firstly, we need the whole sector as I’ve outlined it to work together and we need to achieve some consensus. Perhaps we need a new organisation to take these things forward; perhaps we need further seminars, or a survey or report. I am convinced that we need a way for the whole sector to work together and someone who can argue for this sector at the highest levels. I do not think that organisations such as the Theatre Information Group and Society for Theatre Research can do it alone. Even the largest of individual institutions – the V& A, the, the British Library – cannot do it alone, because there are always other pressures, other projects pushing for funding. I don’t think the Higher Education sector can do it alone, although the HE sector has brought us together today. There should be a place for all of the above, all of the methodologies that I’ve mentioned. But what we need is to find a way of deciding exactly who does what. And I think, to sum up, that means some kind of national collecting policy, some over-arching national archiving policy. I mean to look at what the best partnerships are and what the priorities should be, to look at the situation as it is now so that we can now, as Chris Bannerman says, try to move forward from there.
CB: A very eloquent … non-manifesto. We’ll go next to Funmi Adawole for another perspective on this area.
Funmi Adawole: I chair an organisation called the Association of Dance of the African Diaspora (ADAD). This organisation is concerned with supporting what is known as ‘Black Dance’, which as you know is a very contested term – but we won’t touch that debate here. We’re very interested in heritage and are using that term because we’re currently being sponsored by the Heritage Lottery. This interest in heritage started in October 2005 with our first event, and we hope to do a number of proactive events to collect the history of black artists and what they have done in Britain. We’re focusing mostly on the period from the 1930s to the 1990s and are trying to collect information on this span of time. Last October we had one event at the Theatre Museum, during which we interviewed Carol Straker, Greta Mendez and Percy Craig, three practitioners very active in the 1970s, when black dance was first sponsored by the Arts Council and, therefore, began to be considered as an artistic practice rather than as a representation of social practice.
This October we hope to open a small exhibition at the Theatre Museum focused on the development of black dance in Britain from the 1930s. Because we can only show certain cases from that sixty-year span, we’ve been debating the title. We are in touch with other archivists and hope that the some of material we gather for the exhibition might be distributed to certain archives afterwards, while some will be returned to its owners. For example, there is a dance company, called Minshot, which is opening an archive in Deptford and has already requested some of the tapes of people we’re going to be interviewing during this process.
I want to talk about why we’re interested in archiving, which is down to two things. Over the past decade many practitioners within the field have been concerned about education and professional development. I realised, when I moved from Nigeria to Britain in 1994 and was trying to understand dance here, that the history of dance in Britain was the history of the dance makers. It seemed to me that it was about how dance makers and choreographers thought about how society affected them, how they fed off society, how they created new aesthetics, how they made their dances and came up with new techniques: in brief, you could read and understand the work against this history of ideas. And that’s how I, coming into Britain, began to understand contemporary dance here. I found that this perspective informed the training; it informed the theory of how dance is taught in higher institutions and even in schools and workshops, why young people are introduced to dance in a particular way.
I also found dance companies represented communities or political perspectives as well as certain causes. I found that, in terms of black dance, a black dance company was perceived by most people in terms of the latter: in other words, how it represented a particular community or ethnicity. But the ideas of the choreographer – how society informed the choreographer and impacted upon him or her to make dance the way they did; how he or she might use a social form to make individual statements and, therefore, why they might deconstruct an African dance in a particular way or why they may use a western form but with very strong black racial imagery – these and related issues were not really discussed. And so you never understood what the choreographer or the dance maker or the performers were actually taking to the stage, beyond that they represented black people or Africans or Caribbeans. Of course, this is informed partly by the way dance by black companies is funded, and how black companies came into the mainstream dance situation. For black dance to enter into the wider discourse on art, the perspective on how it is analysed and seen has to shift. We feel archiving will contribute to that process.
The way things are orientated right now means that the view of black dance solely from the point of representation affects what is archived. This is why I feel the idea of a new organisation, formed to promote the value of archiving, is a very good one. Because it’s set up in a particular way, it is very difficult to intervene, I can say from experience. It has taken almost four years to get this exhibition up and running. Because things are set up in a particular way, people cannot actually see that there is an issue about why black practitioners don’t speak about or analyse their work in a particular way. This perspective affects what is archived. For example, the dance company Adzido closed recently after seventeen years in existence, but there was no press release or any other information about where the archive went. I don’t know where the tapes of how the artistic director worked with the dancers have gone: their work was recorded to some extent, but it no longer exists. In part, I feel this is due to the fact that, within the discourse of this society, it did not serve as an artistic company; its work was not analysed or looked at in the same way as I would look at a mainstream company like the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs, Richard Alston’s company or Siobhan Davis’s company, where you automatically think about what the choreographer is doing and ask: Why did they put dances together in this way? What value do the aesthetics of this choreographer have? What does this work say about Britain? What does it say about the individual? What are they making? In the case of black dance in Britain, the work is not considered in this way because that discourse is not there, which is also why the work will not be archived in that way.
For a perspective shift to happen, I think there needs to be some sort of intervening body, because all the institutions involved in black dance are somehow straitjacketed to their agendas. Even if they are sympathetic to the work of archiving, it’s not actually within their jurisdiction because they’re not set up to do it. This, of course, locates black dance in a situation where it doesn’t actually penetrate the curriculum, because the curriculum has been set up in a particular way. As a result, it doesn’t go into education; worse, I think, is that the artists themselves continue to perpetuate the situation because they’re not trained in a certain way and, trapped within in vicious circle, they don’t talk about their work in a certain way. The exoticism that seems to surround black dance cannot simply dispelled by taking off the colourful costume and putting on a leotard and tights, which some dancers have tried to do: it is the work itself that will remain strange if it is not analysed in ways that other kinds of work are analysed.
For change to happen I believe there must be more institutional networking, which more than one person has already said this morning. I often feel it’s not the role of the artist, busy trying to put up a production, to write the curriculum and analyse their work. They don’t have the skills to do that; it’s not their expertise. So there needs to be a link between the higher institution for that to happen. I find that most black dance companies only work in relation to funding bodies and are not linked with the wider institutions which support dance. This is why there needs to be more institutional networking. Also, I think there needs to be an organisation that can actually intervene, because funders are simply not set up to take care of archives or to change policy on behalf of certain groups: another organisation needs to lobby for archive space to be created in order to breach the disparity I’ve outlined above; otherwise, non-mainstream companies will always remain outside the mainstream.
In conclusion, I would like to set out what our hopes for what the exhibition will do. We hope it will introduce a conceptual framework by which we can begin looking at black dance other than by using the narrow definition of dance by black people, in order to consider the ideas behind their work and why they create work in a particular way. That framework should allow us to see them, how they work within a British system, and why they belong to Britain. It should also help determine why they have chosen to work in a particular way or with particular imagery. Clearly, we hope that this framework will be useful and intend that the exhibition will be accompanied by a booklet offering a narrative of the development of black dance over the last sixty to ninety years. We do not mind if this narrative is contested and challenged by people who say that it wasn’t like that; in fact, if that happens, it will serve our aim of exploring other ideas about black dance. Maybe this process will trigger memories, which, because no questions are being asked at the moment, are stored in the unconscious mind. We hope that people will come forward with more stories after the exhibition and tell us that we forgot about this or didn’t look at that. And we think that the conceptual framework might encourage more archiving of black dance, because people will be able to see and understand why certain information and certain documents are important, not least for the education and professional development of the sector. We can then understand why we need to fund some dancers to pass on information to other dancers. And we can see the importance of why we need to have certain residencies so that information could be retained and passed on to others.
CB: And now last, but certainly by no means least…. We are delighted that every panel member is here, but are particularly delighted that Jacqueline Davis agreed to fly from St Petersburg to New York, spend a couple of days there, and then travel to join us here. So thank you very much Jacqueline and welcome.
Jacqueline Davis: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share information about documenting live performance from the point of view and experiences in the United States. I know that many of you have at least heard of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and a number of you have actually been there and have used it. For those of you who have not, I offer a brief review. The Library is one of four Research Centers of the New York Public Library. Contrary to its name, which implies public support, the entire library system is a not-for-profit organisation. The institution includes eight-five branch libraries and four research centres – black culture, humanities, science, industry and business and the performing arts. Our Library centre includes divisions in music, dance, theatre, recorded sound; exhibitions, including two galleries, and public programmes in a 202-seat theatre.
The Divisions of Theatre and Dance include Subdivisions devoted to the documentation of live performance. This is a very active original documentation programme. The manager of each of these subdivisions scouts performances using a number of criteria. Shows are chosen and cameramen, soundmen, grips, etc. are hired. This occurs only after we have obtained permissions in writing from every conceivable person directly related to each production: for example, actors, playwrights, directors, set, lighting and costume designers, fight directors – any imaginable job, short of the hairstylist, must sign a form before we can set foot in the theatre to tape a production.
The Theatre documentation programme began in 1969 after the then director of the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Betty Corwin, saw Laura Taylor in The Glass Menagerie – one of the greatest performances in American theatre – and Jessica Tandy and Marion Brando in A Street Car Named Desire. She lamented the ephemeral nature of each performance. There were playbills and sketches and script notes, but no documentation of the final product. She took her idea to document to the unions who turned her down flat. She didn't give up and eventually won the right to document theatre with impressive restrictions. A master copy is made and remains the property of the Library. Service copies are made to be shown on site only. The theatre community can apply to see tapes, but the general public is not permitted to see the tapes.
Unions are very concerned about piracy. Therefore, nobody – including those involved in any given play – receives a copy of the tapes based on the union and guilds restrictions. Even though US copyright law makes it a federal offence to copy a tape, it does happen, to the extent that the FBI is sending field officers into theatres to catch culprits. You would think that the unions would be more relaxed after years of successfully working with us. But the opposite is true. They are so concerned about piracy that they have become more and more strict.
Dance documentation does not involve the same number of restrictions. Permissions are required from the company, the venue and from musicians if live music is used. Of course, larger companies do, like American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. But smaller companies do not have the same level of union and guild involvement. Smaller companies are happy to have their work taped and are less concerned about piracy. Dance is less commercial than theatre and restrictions are fewer.
Theatre's annual budget is $1 million. This is not an allocation. The Division’s director raises funds from producers and others interested in the future of Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, which includes 6,186 titles.
The dance taping budget is much less – half a million dollars. Dance includes more than 19,000 titles, because its emphasis is to seek a broad spectrum of styles across the world throughout history, including ethnically specific work. Therefore, the dance division actively seeks tapes from companies and presenters around the world. They preserve these tapes and make them available on site.
Choices for taping are based on criteria set by the division.
As with everything else, the cream rises to the top so the A-list decisions are very easy. The more difficult curatorial decisions come on the B and C levels. Some questions we pose include:
What will be historically significant?
Where are holes in the collection like Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?
We must supplement the Collection with the works of artists whose collections are already here, for example: Edward Albee, Hal Prince, Betty Comden and Adolphe Green, Robert Wilson.
We are in the business of documenting and preserving theatre and dance history and providing access on site to this information. We find that researchers are most interested in the final product, so filming has been focused on completed works. There are times when we are asked to tape the process in workshop so that a director can work with the tapes. And it is understood that the production must pay for the taping of workshop material. Examples include Sunday in the Park with George, Contact, Boy from Oz and Tommy.
And what of gaps in both dance and theatre documentation? There is very little taping of national theatre; there is no opera or music performance taping. We do acquire those tapes if they become available commercially, but that does not fill the gap. In dance, the large gaps are in Chinese and African works.
Coordination. We consult our colleagues to learn if a tape has been made. Sharing is a thorny issue because of the union restrictions. Content usage is restricted to the Library. The card catalogue is available on the Internet, so that if you go to www.nypl.org you can see what is available and plan a trip. Guests from more than thirty countries visited us last year to see theatre tapes.
Solutions. Like everyone else, more funding is needed. Endowments, outright gifts, and more federal funding would be very helpful. At present, unlike the UK, federal funding for this kind of project is minimal. For example, we received enough money for this coming fiscal year to tape two theatre performances and two dance events. We need to change the thinking of donors. Across the board, it is difficult to get funders to support the salaries of the people who are needed to do the work.
The Digital Age. We are exploring ways to create a digital dance resource, which has much more potential than a digital theatre moving image resource. Unions are opposed to video streaming. And, there is always the question of copyright as mentioned throughout this presentation.
In conclusion, the Performing Arts Library is not a library in the traditional sense of the word. It is a living, breathing entity creating the opportunity for performance to be celebrated by viewing the past, to experience the present and to look to the future.
The Library's public programmes and exhibitions enhance the work just described. Just a few examples before I close: Alan Bennett spoke last week about why he created his plays, and Eileen Atkins, Richard Easton, Robert Sean Leonard, Christine Ebersole and Philip Bosco enacted scenes of his works. Down the hall and down the steps, Irving Berlin on Broadway, an exhibition about his life on Broadway, is available for public viewing. A while back, the same gallery featured costumes, ensembles, photographs and memorabilia of Margot Fonteyn. Public programmes reflecting on her life were integral to the exhibit.
I hope this has given you an idea of what it means to us to document live performance.
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