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Performance as Knowledge graphic spacer Wednesday 3 May 2006
The Portico Rooms
Somerset House, London WC2R 1LA

Transcripts — Rapporteurs Comments


Guy Baxter (GB)
Alda Terracciano (AT)
Michael Huxley (MH)
Susan Melrose (SM)
Andrew Stewart (AS)
Lois Keidan (LK)
Guy Baxter (GB)
Daisy Abbott (DA)

Speakers not identified by name on transcription tape referred to as Man or Woman

Michael Huxley: Our group was Learning Experience, Innovative Use of Archives. I’m going to address that in four ways. Firstly, we talked for quite some time about where the learning experience actually takes place, and also came up with some strikingly obvious things that happen in the archives. They happen also in the education sector; in that case, however, we looked at these quite broadly. Although we talked about postgraduate and undergraduate students at the age eighteen and Further Education. We also extended that discussion to include the suggestion that you can extend that range back, when it comes to a relationship with an archive, to the age of about ten: get them interested early. Of course, artists are involved in education and learning, but there is clearly a formal education sector, whatever that may be, and people working as artists beyond that sector. So, you have those three places where the learning experience takes place and we talked in detail about the relationships between those.

In some institutions, there’s a very happy co-incidence that there’s a Higher Education institution with an archive. Consequently, you can have particular learning experiences tailored to that archive; you can run a module based on that archive. Students in that case are already where the archive is; elsewhere, you have a much more difficult situation, where you have an HE institution which may or may not know about an archive at the other end of the country and an archive which doesn’t know about that institution. We talked about ways of bringing those institutions together in more satisfactory ways, which led to a discussion about the nature of the learning experience. From that, I’d like to isolate four things. Firstly, we looked at the need for a very flexible approach to exactly what the students are going to be engaged with, flexible both in terms of how students approach the material and what sort of material is actually given to them – in other words, giving students sufficient material in a structured way to allow them to come up with flexible interpretations themselves. Secondly, we talked about diversity, which relates to the first point. Thirdly, we talked about multi-faceted materials and the importance of giving students not just text but visual, oral and audio materials, and giving it to them in such a way that they can juxtapose them. And they can come up with relationships which they wouldn’t otherwise have thought of: that is, not just giving students a video tape to look at and telling them a bit about somebody, but rather enabling them to look at a moving visual image, a still image and a bit of text, to move those around and to see how they can be juxtaposed to extract new meanings from them. The fourth point concerned how digitisation can enhance such juxtaposition, which can be done on a DVD, on a CD-ROM, on a web page.

So that was the second thing – looking at the actual nature of the learning experience. We all shared that interest, so the discussion naturally moved onto the whole question of innovation. In talking about those learning experiences and where they take place, people mentioned all sorts of experiences they have had. Out of those, we came up with a long phrase concerning “an expanded ecology of the relationships between learning institutions, artists and companies and archives based around specific works.” In other words, the idea is one of taking specific works – whether dance, drama, music theatre – and then finding learning institutions (I use that term deliberately, rather than HE), an archive or archives and a company involved in that work, and building up relationships between them and then adding further archives or further institutions or further companies to that. So, if you wish, you can create a cluster or network of groups each swapping and sharing information about that particular work. You build up a network with a specific interest of sharing that information and developing the relationship between the archive and the work. Then you expand that by connecting with other similar relationships, so when you add the two together you get a flow of information which is based on some common idea or understanding.

We then looked further, recognising that the previous idea is largely based on networking, people talking to each other and people communicating with each other, and the learning process flows that from that. These are small-scale networks or clusters. There’s also an obvious example of the learning network, which is what we’ve got today: namely, a group of people who put their thoughts together in this room, who have shared experiences and will continue to do so for the next half hour. But what are we going to do after that? Well, we’ve all got e-mail addresses, so is there a possibility of setting up an e-mail list serve for ResCen? I believe something of this nature already exists on the ResCen website, where there is a form that will allow us to take follow learning experiences through.

Most people within our room are connected with another network of one sort or another, such as Backstage, Palatine, et cetera, et cetera. If people already have connections with their own networks, we don’t have to do much to let people on those networks know that this event took place, that it was a good thing, and that they can read the report of today’s sessions on the ResCen website.

I think we want to emphasise three key things from our session. First, the learning process is one of engagement. Secondly, we talked a lot about understanding the process – understanding the process that leads to performance on the one hand but also understanding the process of using archive material on the other. And finally we saw this all building up to ‘opening doors’.

Woman: We talked about how we collect live performance, and there was quite an interesting mixture of people in the room. There was somebody from the Royal Shakespeare Company, somebody representing live art and performance, and so on. We decided intended use was a major issue. There are many varied ways of intended use: one is for the artist’s own use; otherwise, for education purposes for students as we’ve talked about, a straight record of the show without any editing. Are we talking about a promotional tool that artists might want to keep or use for furthering their own work, which is edited? We all know that it is possible to have very good documentation of poor work and very poor documentation of excellent work, which we discussed at length. We also discussed non-intended use, which is what happens when, once the work is made, where it then goes, and looked at the possible positive outcomes of non-intended use: that is, a future use thanks to new technology that has not been invented. We looked at the longevity of archived materials: the VHS video is going and even DVDs do not last forever. We have to address what happens now that the video is disappearing and what will take its place.

Man: We talked about built-in short-term life for different formats and also formats where we don’t know how long they’ll last. We also spoke about different technologies: for instance, the use of proprietorial formats and its inadvisability. It was pointed out in that if one particular format dies out you could find yourself with a large body of material that cannot be re-accessed or the machines for doing so might no longer be serviceable. Remastering might become a major issue, particularly if you’ve been collecting in one format for a long time and you have a large body of work in your depository. There are big things to consider here. Of course, you cannot make the decision to move to a new format too soon because quite often there are formats fighting for dominance: for example, Betamax and VHS.

Woman: We looked at the neutrality the archive. Is the film-maker simply making a straight record as they see the work? How much does the artist get involved in the film-making process? And we discussed accuracy; if a performance is repeated over a period of a time, which one do you record? Somebody spoke about a company, I think it was The Globe, which recorded every performance however long. How do we ensure the accuracy of that one-off performance and make it a neutral piece? Should we look at best practice? This came up later when we talked about possible Arts Council funding. Should there be a minimum and a maximum? Somebody said that perhaps we should have a standardisation where the minimum was a straightforward one-camera view of that piece of live work; at the other end, the finished product might be a CD-ROM including multiple interviews, background information, details of the creative process, and so on. That leads us on to the issue of cost and resources, not least because something like the CD-ROM would stand beyond the financial reach of many people and also demand a considerable investment of time. The limits can be very considerable indeed. We felt the process involved in this was very much something the dance companies seemed to have been using for their own purposes, as opposed to other artists who maybe wouldn’t record in their own rehearsal spaces. Once a recording is made of dance work for the use originally intended, for choreographers and the dancers themselves, what happens to that work later? A lot of people felt that this was very interesting work to preserve, but other artists, of course, wouldn’t want to record their process. They might, however, capture their creative process in other ways.

Audience involvement was another discussion point. Many of live and performance artists might involve audiences in the work itself, which is often interactive work. But even if it isn’t a straight text-based piece in a theatre, we looked at the importance of recording that with an audience in there, so that when you’re watching that it’s not just a straightforward piece without any idea of the fact that there was a live audience seeing that work. The artist’s involvement, from the point of view of the work I’m involved with, is absolutely crucial. However, we did debate the case of a director in a rehearsal space not wanting somebody in there with a camera observing rehearsals but preferring to keep the doors shut on the creative process; of course, other people are very open to that. Any documentation made and subsequently given to an archive having the artist’s go ahead and approval to preserve there is, I think, part of a crucial dialogue. We talked about the relationship of that artist with the person making the work, and about the longer term documentation if that work became a more permanent thing. Such a relationship might develop over several years, so this process of documentation is something that might be more important in future than it is now; therefore, directors might feel less anxious about this is sort of ‘infringement’ on the creative process once they’ve established sound relationships with the maker.

It was suggested that we should ask the Arts Council to fund each of its clients with an additional percentage of funding as an encouragement (somebody used the word ‘enforcement’) to do this type of work. Actually, extra funds would encourage all companies, regardless of discipline, to make archiving part of the creative practice, although that is maybe a most unlikely thing to come from the Arts Council. If it did happen, however, there would be a case to have a model of best practice and how that should be determined. I think most companies and artists would find that a very positive thing, if funding was available to enable them to do it, but to rely on their own resources is very difficult, and I think we were all agreed about that.

We talked about interviews and memories recorded at the time. Obviously recording live work is a big part of it. But, in retrospect, interviews of work and people’s memories of work they’ve seen or been part of or created themselves in the past could be included in the current archive, so that archives wouldn’t just be of the work itself but would contain interviews with people who’ve made that work. This should be something that we should carry on now and in future: it’s not just historical. So there were a lot of ideas, looking mainly towards a plan of best practice for all art forms which some, which I think is what we should work towards.

Susan Melrose: This is, I might say, an indication of a movement towards disintegration, because we had a very good discussion and yet nobody would agree to summarise. When we tried to summarise, we had different summaries. So we wondered if there was some connection between our disarray and the way in which the subject could be approached. I won’t talk too much, because I already spoke enough in the session but they talked me into it – there was quite some bribe here, but I never actually saw the cash! We looked at what is to be archived and the question of the basis for selection; in other words, who would be archiving and for what purposes. We came up with a number of different takes on this. When we were being very erratic, somebody had the good idea of suggesting that we should introduce where we are from. As a result, we discovered that one of our group’s problems was that its members of were from diverse backgrounds, including representatives of major institutions such as the Theatre Museum, the BBC and the Royal Opera House, with each of those institutions having an in-built archiving faculty or facility complete with mission statements and the like. We also had academics, about whom I’ll say nothing because we already say too much. And we had representatives from smaller companies or regional companies, sometimes driven by a particular set of motives or ethos. We also had individual artists. Therefore, it collectively seemed to us that we couldn’t reach any kind of agreement because each of these different groups of participants had a different ethos, a different institutional set up and probably different reasons for wanting to archive and choosing to archive. If I may just run through some of those, there was a question of a small company using the opportunity to archive in order to establish a coherent history of that company, and to record a history which was perhaps driven by politics at some stage and look at how that had developed over time. Some suggested that archives should be produced in order to explain how the work was carried out in the past, once again offering a historical record for those who would be interested. The archive needed to be made in some instances to consolidate a past or to consolidate a sense of an identity, partly in order to make it available to other people. But some of the larger institutions, for example, had the sense of a moral obligation to record pretty well everything; to use it both as a company tool to provide materials retained for others to make use of in a creative or educational context. Concerning this notion of a moral obligation, one records what one has made so that one can then feed it into other communities for other uses.

The BBC, you’ll be pleased to know, has in part a commercial focus to its archiving processes. The licence fee issue was raised, but we won’t say too much about that. We also discussed the BBC7 digital facility. Again, the BBC wants to use an archive actively to reinforce its identity or certain aspects of its identity, I would think when its identity is called into question, as for example with the licence fee issue. Smaller, individual practitioners interestingly saw the archive as an ongoing process which would contribute to their own creative development. In that sense the archive isn’t for other people so much as for the creative process in the individual or small companies concerned. One member of the group asked whether there was a dance bias today, whether it is increasingly easy to archive dance process and product, and whether theatre was less easy or less ready to address the archive process.

The cost of archiving product in a really crap version would cost 2,000; if you engaged an independent director to oversee the production, we never decided how much that would cost. Does anybody here want to put in a higher bid? This is why institutional identity was interesting, because obviously the smaller practitioners wouldn’t necessarily have that amount of money to invest.

Woman: One of the things that came out of the group was the question: “Can we keep a hundred percent?” I think that was one thing that concerned everyone, knowing that you can’t keep a hundred percent. So there is an issue of selection and disposal. But that issue is very much informed by the nature of the organisation, its purpose and the ethos that drives it, which is why we spent so much time talking about. In short, each organisation needs to have its own policy on what it archives and why.

Jill Evans: I want to say just a little bit about the individual people in our group, if they don’t mind, because I thought there were terribly interesting distinctions in terms of each of the archives they represent, of there being no real consensus about what an archive, because it depends on what you’re using it for. For example, Peter Cheeseman has created a wonderful archive of social history as source material for his work; Wayne McGregor talked about the distinction that he is exploring between a ‘hard’ archive and a ‘soft’ archive: he has neuroscientists going through his notebooks actually exploring his creative process, and using the archival material as a way of creating more material. Chris Baugh emphasised the distinction between the easy requirements of an archive, the artefacts, and the hard requirements, which might include benefit to the artists, where it can become really complicated. Francesca Franchi from the Royal Opera House talked about providing a specific service, increasingly to the company’s educational centre, which is where your moral imperative surfaced. And Bonnie Hewson from a small company talked about finding a way to use an archive to help small companies tell their own story and create an identity. We felt the BBC’s biggest problem was that of getting rid of stuff, simply because they have the ability to archive so very much material.

Lois Keidan: We all thought Andrew Stewart was the rapporteur for our group, but then realised he was the official reporter for the whole event. So we are completely unprepared for this.

Guy Baxter: We looked at access and dissemination and have had quite an interesting discussion about the difference between the two. I think we agreed that access was more passive: i.e., we’ve got this – come and look at it. Dissemination is much more about encouraging people to make different uses of archive material. We had a long discussion about the tools used in terms of access, about databases, Internet gateways and so on, and I think we probably agreed that we need to have a better kind of gateway directory of performing arts holdings than Backstage. Backstage is a great achievement but we need something that goes beyond that. There are many ongoing initiatives, I think, that that are probably moving towards this, but maybe they need more co-ordination.

Another thing discussed was the issue of rights, particularly when it comes to video. We held another long discussion about video. I don’t think we concluded anything, other than it’s going to be really very difficult to crack that whole issue of rights. It’s quite interesting, I think, that one of the reasons we perhaps didn’t all agree is because we we’re coming from many different perspectives and there was a difference actually even within the group. Yes, there are people who are practitioners but there is a big difference between their work and archives tied to an institution: i.e., the latter collect the archives of their own institution. And there are people, like myself, who are out there trying to collect from a wide range of sources. I think one of the key differences, and the BBC people might disagree completely with me on this, is that we have on the collective side less control as to what we can collect and therefore we’re kind always dependent on the whims of other organisations. That has a really big impact on all our standpoints. I think it perhaps changed the whole discussion. How do we make things accessible when we don’t necessarily even own the material? Or how do we go about getting it in the first place?

Alda Terracciano: Actually, somebody mentioned Google

Andrew Stewart: We talked about the various access points, be it search engines, online catalogues or card indexes, and Steve Cleary mentioned the idea of having a dedicated performing arts archive search engine. Knowing that there are big issues politically in terms of approaching a large over-riding concern, I nevertheless pointed out that Google does exist and is increasingly involved in digitising all sorts of content. It seems to me that there’s a chance to approach Google; rather than create another organisation, it already exists. It may be something to think about, given that there are so many disparate search engines; so many disparate catalogues; so many people wanting their stuff to be online and available digitally, to approach Google as a united body, if you like, at least with some proposal to take that forward and circumvent the idea of having what Lois called Poogle. That would be a Performing Arts … no that doesn’t work either – Poogle, Paogle or whatever.

AT: I think there was a very pressing issue about what people look for.

Daisy Abbott: I made a point about an understanding of users and how they approach material. In my experience users tend to approach performing arts material on an item-level basis; they have an item-level search task in mind. Therefore, collection-level descriptions, such as those provided by the rather excellent Backstage, are not actually fulfilling user needs in the way that they should be.

GB: On that subject, I would make the point about an initiative to set up a national standard for describing productions, an ambitious project that the Theatre Information Group (TIG) is presently developing with Museums, Libraries and Archives funding. It will give us a different way in, one that is, we hope, more suited to the performing arts than the sort of tools that we’ve had up to now.

CB: Now for your overarching comments or responses to what we’ve heard from each of the groups! I told you earlier today that I thought the Ecology Model would be a good guide for us, so that we are all connected. What has happened, to some extent, is that you have come up with distinctions – sometimes about the scale of the organisation, sometimes about the purpose of the archive. I have a strange, contradictory kind of feeling that a clarification of these distinctions will ultimately help us see the ways in which we are connected. Because things are ‘blurry’ now, we cannot achieve the kind of clarity for each of our missions and each of our positions required to make connections between them. Although this may seem a very contrary point of view, I think that such clarification will effectively reinforce the notions that we all are connected and of the importance of there being a network between us. Issues of scale may very and, in the first instance, throw up all sorts of distinctions that appear to be barriers; but there’s a great potential benefit in communication across those distinctions. That’s an immediate thought concerning this single point. You cannot all be stunned into silence: there must be somebody with an overarching point or even a point that has not yet been addressed. Or is this silence the result of us not having tea or coffee in the afternoon? Any other ideas about things you would like to see come out of today?

LK: If you locked the doors of this room, then you would have the kind of archive and the performing arts in the UK group that has been suggested.

CB: Excellent idea, Lois. The doors will be locked now! There are, however, people who are not here who perhaps should be part of such a group, although there’s a pretty good selection in the room.

LK: I think there is a bunch of different ways of gathering useful information. One would be to get a massive Arts and Humanities Research Council or Arts Council grant and spend the next eighteen months doing research. Or, more simply, get everybody in this room who is in some way involved in archives to do a list of their ten to twenty absolute key essential archives in the UK, so at least there is some beginnings of information. I heard about things earlier today of which I have to confess complete ignorance, such as Backstage. Everybody who has used the Live Arts Development Agency over the last six years has never mentioned the word Backstage to me either. I suspect there are people within the sector who are ignorant of the sources out there. Our group talked about constructing a directory, whether web-based or not, so that everybody could pool their knowledge of what’s out there. That might at least be the beginning of something. We, as organisations, should look at ways of sign-posting the different resources and take responsibility for this.

Daisy Abbott: I am writing a report at the moment, and one of its sections is devoted to performing arts digital material that is there on the web already. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a directory of it either, so I have compiled a list from various sources, such as Palatine, HCS and others. Please e-mail me with details about other online directories and resources. When this report appears within the next few months, I hope that it will at least be semi-comprehensive. It’s going to be called something like the HDS Performing Arts Study on the Use and Creation of Digital Resources.

CB: That’s a snappy title!

DA: Well, you know, I didn’t design the title and am not pretending that my current list is in any way comprehensive. Perhaps I could send out a list to everybody on the mailing list here on the ResCen Forum and people could then add [websites] that inevitably I have missed.

CB: That would be good. I’m sure people will be able to do that.

GB: We’re currently developing the website for the Theatre Information Group and therefore have an opportunity to make it much more of an information gateway for this area. It will cover most of the major archive holding institutions for performing arts in the UK. But we could do other things with it as well: we can point at other resources, and we are happy to do that. But is this apparent difficulty of access the barrier? That’s a question for everybody here. Is the problem simply that we don’t have a website? I believe that sounds false, that the whole problem is that we don’t have a website. I wonder if, as Daisy said earlier, we’ve got too many things, too many gateways, too many things going on. Perhaps what we need is for the various networks to talk to each other at all sorts of different levels: the HE sector; the people who have got the archives in their institutions; organisations like the Arts Council that are funding performers, and some representatives of the performing arts. I think the issue needs some kind of network that can pull together different bodies, and not just a new website.

CB: It could be a matter of what the website is doing. The point has been made about the items that users are actually looking for – individual items, rather than generic collections. It would have been interesting (and I almost thought about doing this today), to bring in an Interneted computer and to let people here try to find something. I actually did some experiments online to find individual items, individual works by individual artists. It could be that the websites we have available aren’t quite right for that type of search or that there’s a plethora. As you point out, Guy, it is to do with dealing across sectors, and there are now more players in this area, which is clearly a challenge. But it’s a good question.

Norman Tozer: I think we ought to look at best practice that anybody can do and also in the idea of archiving.

CB: Responses to that! Yes, a microphone coming to you. I have a feeling I know what you’re going to say, but let’s see.

Bonnie Mitchell: To follow on from that thought, I’m thinking about all of those training courses and so on available to somebody working, for example, for a theatre company. Who can teach me? I’ve had various conversations with Guy Baxter, as he’s been seeing us through the donation of our archives to the Theatre Museum. But isn’t it just another aspect of performing arts in terms of what you can do with that material then? Surely someone like the Independent Theatre Council is running a course about how archiving and how you do it?

CB: We have a response from the back of the room almost straight away, which might deliver an answer to that question.

LK: It’s partly in response to that and partly in response to the second group’s presentation about Arts Council ‘encouragement’. I think that has come up before as an issue – whether it should be written in to Arts Council grants as money left over for documentation. But that means there will be little bits of money spread around. I think all artists should be encouraged to think about how their work is represented and disseminated beyond the actual work itself. It might, however, be better, rather than the Arts Council putting a bit of money onto every project to do some documentation and archiving and leaving the different companies to train themselves to do it, to think about actually setting up an organisation nationally to do that, one that has the expertise to do that type of work on behalf of the artists, so that the Arts Council money goes to the company to pay an organisation with the expertise to do it rather than for the company to do it for themselves. I think one of the things that has been clear today is that the cultural sector is expanding, evolving and becoming even more exciting, more complex. Many very exciting performance-based works these days do not involve any performing; rather, they involve artists generating events for audiences. Of course, it’s impossible to create a document of this with the ‘camera pointing at the stage’ approach. There are so many different aspects that haven’t been documented yet that it would almost be impossible to design a training programme to cover everything. It might be better to have a service organisation that did have that range of skills and was resourced to go out and document work, even in collaboration with a company, to place it in the archives.

CB: It could be that a whole number of artists are now being trained and educated who now have familiarity with digital technology; that might happen within training programmes or it might happen simply through their engagement with life as it is today. Not all artists could engage with a digital technology project, in the sense of leading it, but they would all know about the vocabulary of it. And so it may be that within training provision there needs to be much greater awareness of what Mike Huxley touched on in a sense: that if people learn about documentation and archiving then, at least, they would be familiar with the concepts and vocabulary necessary to deal and engage with specialists or service organisations.

LK: I don’t know how to build a website; I don’t want to know how to build a website. What I want to know is what a website can do for me and how I can use it.

CB: A good analogy, yes. Okay. Final comments, please. We’re coming close to that cup of tea and I can see that you’re looking forward to that.

AT: At some point, I recall we discussed how it was important not to forget what eventually these archives are. Obviously, there are a number of records of the activities of a person, organisation, company or individual: archives have identities. I think it is also important to reflect in the general discussion today that these are cultural identities as well as artistic identities, and that this relates to how the archive sector is represented. Having travelled around the country and seen what organisations and companies do, and the material in existence, there is an immense amount of resources. Probably the most important thing at the moment for big institutions is for them to be connected, without necessarily acquiring new material or having to incorporate. This is a matter of how we can create these connections. The Internet is one way, of course; a directory is another. But for the performing arts, the artists are probably the best connectors.

A performing artist, aware of the possibilities of using a performance as a way to promote resources that they have within their own company, can make an audience aware that there are archives. How do we make these archives really interesting? And how do people access these archives? Only a very small number of people in the country access archives: we’re talking about academics and some but by no means all artists. But it is the general public that goes to performances, and teachers go to performances. They might be thinking, “I could use this for my pupils”. Again, the performing arts is so much about the performer, so let’s think of how we can use that.

CB: Alda, this reminds me of the phenomenon of the ‘director’s cut’ – a DVD of a previously released film, containing additional materials, interviews with the director and performers and so on. These have become very popular now and may offer a model, albeit a commercial one.

I think we have come to tea-time and I think you have earned your cup of tea today. I want to thank you all for coming and that I hope you feel we’ve had a productive day.

I think there are a number of strands of thought that we have developed today which hopefully can be woven into a strong web of support for a diverse range of work in the performing arts. We can continue this work using the forum on the ResCen website. Achieving a strong resource base will extend and deepen knowledge of, and in the performing arts and this will be of benefit to everyone in the arts as well as those interested in the arts. And, if the most accurate record of a civilisation is found in its art, then we owe future generations the right to have access to the record of the performing arts, its unique insights into, reflections of and challenges to the culture and events of the day. Without access to past performances and performance practices this knowledge is lost and the performing arts as a whole are diminished, both as domains of knowledge and as socially significant interventions.

As Chris Smith said at the beginning of the day, “culture is what we grow people in” – without the evidence, without the record, without access to the history of the performing arts, everyone’s growth is diminished. Let us keep the dialogue and discussion moving forward.

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