Speakers not identified by name on transcription tape referred to as Man or Woman
Simon Rooks: I wrote a policy document and, talking in terms of BBC programming, I asked from the start, “Can we keep a hundred per cent?” “No”. So, then you have to start selecting. If you start from that point, you admit that selection happens. And if selection happens, you admit that disposal happens. These are the three big things you have to address when you talk about archiving.
Susan Melrose: But you’re starting from an interesting position, which isn’t necessarily the position that other archivists are in.
SM: What I mean by that is that if you’re starting from the BBC perspective, then all sorts of selection processes have already gone on, if we compare the BBC with a small dance company, for example. So the BBC already operates selection in choosing who will do what.
Man: Is there going to be room in this discussion for my practical concern about what we have already, and how we can find what there is or create some mechanism for linking the disparate collections and the disparate efforts together?
SM: In listening to what was said this morning, I suspect we need some kind of place where artists can deposit their archives. It would be easiest if it were digital.
Man: None of the performers I know would willingly deposit their work in an archive.
SM: No, it would have to be voluntary or people would have to indicate an interest, at least, in doing so.
Man: Yes, that’s right.
Francesca Franchi: So, do we need to define the different types of archive that are being created?
Man: I was just thinking about that.
FF: You’re talking about individual performers, but I work at the Royal Opera House where there’s a whole company creating archives.
SM: I’m interested in that as well; firstly, whether you as an institution make the decisions. For example, if Kim Brandstrup came to work with you, would you archive what he is doing?
FF: Yes, yes.
SM: And if it was a summer school and he was teaching choreographers, you would presumably archive that as well?
FF: If it was at the Royal Opera House, yes ...
SM: But would you have signed a contract with him so that he no longer held intellectual ownership of his work?
FF: No, no.
SM: If this question were about writing and publishing, there would be copyright laws already drawn up. If Kim Brandstrup does a summer school, is there a copyright contract drawn up where the Royal Opera House says we will share copyright, under our auspices, but you retain your rights as a professional practitioner? In other words, is it his work or is it your work?
Peter Cheeseman: The law’s quite clear about that: it’s a minefield, and it’s getting worse. And there are the trade unions as well.
Jill Evans: We’ve done it by separating out the ownership of the performance and the ownership of the recording, so each of our recordings states up front that the copyright in the work remains with the author, copyright in the performance remains with the artist, and copyright in the recording is shared between the Theatre Museum and the relevant unions.
SM: Okay, so you’ve had to work all of that out.
JE: Yes.SM: But for recordings at the Royal Opera House, you would consider that you have had to work that out?
FF: In terms of performance, yes. The work would remain the copyright of the choreographer.
SM: So it would be the choreographer and not the dancer who would hold the copyright.
SM: Which is interesting to me in itself, because it says that the choreographer is an artist with rights and the dancer isn’t an artist with rights.
FF: They have rights, but not in the work though. And I think if we …
Woman: In the performance, they have rights.
FF: Yes, if there’s a recording of the performance and it’s going to be broadcast then the performers have rights there. So it does depend on the usage of the material that has been recorded. And it depends also on whether it’s a film, a photograph, a programme or poster.
SM: And so have you got this legally settled in terms of contracts that specify all of that? I’m sorry to insist on this, but it really is an interesting thing. Arts administration draws together a lot of documents about a lot of practitioners, so they have a curatorial function. It does pose the question: is this stuff the work of the practitioner or of arts admin? They can use that material when they go around talking about arts admin. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I’m keenly interested in the practitioner’s rights over their own invention.
SR: The topics also overlap. Part of the decision about what you archive is about how you could use it once you’ve got it. If you take something and can’t do anything with it, then what’s the point? To give you an example from broadcast, things like opera were broadcast by BBC Radio Three and routinely not retained for the reason there were no rights to reuse it. What’s the point of using shelf space and devoting hours of cataloguing time to keep that programme, because there were no rights to reuse it? These days, when I go to Radio Three, I say you don’t have rights to use it in the next five years or the foreseeable future, but actually I am thinking about fifty or a hundred years where the usage and copyright laws we have now may be completely different. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. What I’m saying is that recognising the ownership and multi-layered and overlapping ownerships is not necessarily a barrier to keeping something in an archive. It’s just one of the things that you should be aware of as part of documentation.
PC: One very interesting thing for me is what institution something has come from. The BBC has special copyright arrangements. When Alastair Cooke died, I was delighted that they had recorded all of his Letters from America, for example.
Bonnie Mitchell: When I say I have limited knowledge, it’s that we’re a theatre company, the Sphinx Theatre Company. We had our thirtieth anniversary last year and, because of that, we wanted to look into the history of our company, which at the time was a lot in mouldy boxes. It was the Women’s Theatre Group when it was formed back in 1973. And so as a process to inform our work, we needed to look into our archive. As a result, we got in touch with many people. Now we’ve bestowed our archive in the Theatre Museum. I’m interested in how an archive can become a part of a company’s everyday process, like monitoring, evaluating or marketing a project would be. You archive it; you document it. You could add in a budget line when you create a funding application about ‘Documentation’. And then you have a place that goes in the process. I hope that can add another dimension.
Christopher Baugh: I’m from the Universality of Kent, and I suppose my reason for being here is that I’ve been on the Theatre Museum Board for ten years and have just stepped down. I chaired the group that produced an online access protocol called Backstage, which some of you might know.
SM: One of my interest in archiving is because of the fact that Rosemary Butcher, who works with me at Middlesex University, is trying to archive thirty years of performance work. She needs funding for that, and somebody’s given her £25,000 to produce a basic archive of the work, which would then be accessible. We’re looking at the issue of making it accessible to various pedagogic institutions, while recognising that thirty years of work is a significant personal as well as professional history. For the last thirty years, all of my work, which is writing and publishing, has been recorded somewhere. Hers is all over the place. So one of her tasks is to see whether she can reconstruct work from the 1970s and 80s to make this archive. The question is about what should it include. The judgement about quality has already been established. This is a woman in her late fifties whose work has an international reputation, so there are various bodies that are interested in it. But that’s only one aspect of it, since my wider question about archives is who should judge one’s work?
CB: I was surprised, Susan, given that you quoted the French philosopher Deleuze, that you didn’t quote Derrida. He usefully reminds us that archive has the same root as the word chaos, and that the making of an archive is a way a creating order out of a chaos. And if you were to archive everything, you would have one form of chaos. Therefore, in order to create an archive you are by definition creating some kind of order. Derrida goes on to remind us that the maker of the archive was the archom. And in Greek terms, coming from the same root, they were also the rulers of the state. So that the maker of an archive, Derrida remind us, is somebody of considerable power: they give order to something which is random. You gave us some very practical criteria as to what you would select to put in your archive. We won’t keep that because we’re never going to use it again, therefore we’ll let it go. In other words, it was a very practically driven rather than a qualitative decision. And you were saying, Susan, that as far as Rosemary Butcher is concerned, qualitative judgments have already been made. But it seems to me that the really critical problem is we know we can never archive everything; we know you can’t afford to do it, obviously. Therefore, there have to be some very critical decisions made about how you make order out of what is chaos. We all know that when we begin to look back at an archive, we give it authority, we bow down in front of the archive say if it’s not in the archive it never existed.
SR: One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is bring the archive from the end of the lifecycle, the end of the production chain. At the end of the chain, the archive is a place where things go to die. They may sometimes be exhumed, but probably not. What we’re trying to do is put that process right in the production area and ensure that the production people, in terms of radio and television, record information much better. They’re the people who know what information really means and means at the time. You can’t have one model that works for everything, but that’s the principle: how to capture that information at that stage. Yes, it’s an extra activity to do, but we should try to make it part of the whole process. It’s not, “Right, I’ve done that, done that, done that and done the archiving bit.” It’s about trying to make archiving part of the whole process. A good friend works on the Chris Moyles Show, for example. It is fantastically popular daily radio show, but he is not remotely interested in doing anything that is beyond tomorrow, because he’s got to get that programme out every day and keep his eight million listeners happy. That’s how production people think.
SM: He may be interested when he’s about forty-five! “What is my life?”
SR: Possibly. Coincidentally, I am responsible for archiving some of his programmes, so when he’s forty-five, he’ll be able to find them in the archive.
Deborah Vaughen: I’m a member of […] Writers’ Group, which is a black theatre company and also Oval House. I’m making a radio programme about the process of creating black theatre. I am here because archiving is an issue in terms of black theatre product. And I’m very interested in what is preserved and the narrative that is contained in what is preserved.
Norman Tozer: I’m Norman Tozer and I’m wearing the badge of the Society for Theatre Research. My interest in archives there immediately is because I need archives. I’m doing work on William Poel because I run an event under the name of the William Poel Festival. I’m intrigued about the issues of access and where I have to go to find what I need as a researcher. Equally, as a person who has been archived, I am intrigued about uses selection. I have deliberately shot video and recorded sound for archiving, so I’m interested in distortions I’ve introduced into that material as part of that archiving process.
PC: I ran a theatre in Stoke On Trent, which is way beyond the realms of civilisation for thirty-eight years. And I was lucky enough to be given my job by the founder of the company, Stephen Joseph, who was an extraordinary man. I had the great privilege to take it over and decided I should keep a record of what happened, because we ended up with a freedom that very few of my colleagues enjoyed in regional theatre. It seemed to me that we should have something to help us tell the story, and we realised that more and more as time went on. Now I’m retired, I’m trying to put the archive in some kind of order. One of the things it contains, which really endorses its value, is 2500 audiotapes of each new play. We pioneered that, so that each new play was recorded. I’ve kept nearly all the correspondence relating to the theatre for almost forty years, in 3000 files. There is some film and other broadcast material. Now, I’m trying to raise the funds to digitise this, which is proving a nightmare. My object was to create a complete picture of what has happened. One of the reasons I came today is because theatre is a mess in this country. The growth rate in creativity in British theatre, which was extraordinary, has gradually been eaten away and is sinking. It seems to me that having an archive gives a continuity to a theatre, which is terribly important in the creative process. Keeping an archive is a way of retaining and developing the life of an institution, while the Arts Council is notorious at cutting out continuity. I think that’s terribly important to the theatre.
Ralph Cox: We keep copies in the library or archive recordings of all performances in our theatre and are currently taking legal advice on what we can do with student work, what we can keep and who can watch it. New students will be required to sign a consent form about what we can do with their performances and class videos. It may even been that people in other classes can’t watch their videos, and we need advice on that. The other thing is that our archive is looking at a number of areas. One of those is the process, whereas the library will have copies of the end product. There’s limited end products you can buy for the library, so the archive is taking our in-house dance company, Transitions, and trying to get the essence of how the work is made. We’ll also have recordings of rehearsals and workshops, interviews with the choreographer, lighting designer, the dancers and various people involved to try to help you understand the making of the work.
JE: I’m from the Theatre Museum. When I joined the Theatre Museum, I found quite a sizeable community of people in the theatre profession who don’t agree with recording theatre. Peter Brooke initially said that it you weren’t there and didn’t see it, tough. But he finally came round to believing that it could be useful. People like Richard Eyre still feel that you’re changing the nature of the experience. He’s quite happy for a production of his to be taken into a studio and be lit and re-shot. Although he never says no if you ask, he’s not happy about cameras being there in the theatre documenting a performance. So it still is an issue as to whether or not recording performance should be done. I also wanted to say, when it comes to quality, whether it’s worth doing lots and lots of inexpensive recordings rather than a few expensive recordings. When I went to the unions, I asked them if there could be a clause written in to the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company contracts so that the Theatre Museum could automatically get copies of their production recordings, they said no because the actors are so unhappy about the quality of the recordings. Much as it would be wonderful to record everything, if it isn’t done to a certain standard it will really distress the people who were involved in the original work. I think that’s really important to bear in mind. So you can’t do everything.
Wayne McGregor: I’m a choreographer so have dabbled in many of these issues of archiving productions. We’re working on building something we call Entities, based on the work I’ve done over the last fourteen years. I have a hard archive of video and written materials. Now we’re working on the ‘soft archive’, which is more about physical thinking, how decisions are made. I’m working with the University of Cambridge, the […] Institute of Brain Science, the […] Institute in Los Angeles, and MIT in Boston to build a framework for how one captures the art-making process. What are those points of decision and how can that sort of information complement the hard archive, with a view to building a thing called Entity, which is basically an intelligent computer interface, which has this history of information that can be used to generate new practice. How are these intelligences that we’ve been able to document be used to generate things differently in the studio? What interests me about today is what are the potentials of archives. I think for a lot of artists, archiving is seemingly very boring. It has a feeling of not being interesting, not being creative, of fixing a moment in time rather than reflecting a particular moment in time. I think the assumptions so far outweigh the benefits and the potentials of archives, but there aren’t really that many creative applications and exciting ways of exercising some of these intelligences to make people really feel that their work is reflected widely enough. Of course, you can never capture everything, but it is the range that is really important.
SR: We’ve always struggled at the BBC with getting cooperation from people who are actually creating the content that we want to archive. The Freedom of Information Act has come in and puts an obligation on public bodies to produce documents and records, which means that you have to manage your documents and records in order to retrieve them. We have had a document archive at the BBC since the 1920s, but it has only been in the run up to the Freedom of Information Act that the board of governors of the BBC has really got interested in how well we are managing the documents. I don’t know if people are familiar with BBC Seven, which is a digital radio station with about ninety per cent archive material of comedy and drama. That’s an industrial scale of radio archives which has never happened before, so practically the who network relies on that material. As a result a current radio network is very interested in what is in the archive, why we don’t have some things, why we have some of this, could we change our policy, and so on. The point I’m making is that people get interested in archives when they can see some relevance of how it affects their business, their processes. I can see that very directly now in my context of the BBC. How do you make that relevant to a working artist? I don’t know. I’ve no idea. I think that’s where we have to explore and get some relevance to the creator.
CB: Is it relevant for every artist? Presumably the artist wants to start from the beginning and not assume some other person’s work and be unduly influenced by it. That’s what’s puzzling me as well. I can see from Peter’s point of view archiving a movement or an institution has a purpose. As you say, Wayne, you have not been able to see the purpose for yourself.
WM: I didn’t quite say that. I said that there was a potential for the artist directly to intervene with an archive about their work. Four neuroscientists at Cambridge went through all my notebooks from the last fourteen years to analyse the decision-making process in writing during a particular piece of making. The interesting thing to me, when the findings came back, was that I don’t write down anything choreographic on those bits of paper. The necessity to expose or articulate a question on paper doesn’t take away at all from the intuitions you use: two completely different things are at play there. My point is that, having been through that process of looking at things from a completely different point of view, one makes different decisions. All we’re talking about is information and how you use that to fuel your creative practice. For some people, certain types of information are interesting; to others, they are fuelled by the potential of that information. If you look at the work of William Forsythe, for example, who is looking at very different ways of archiving his work, but with a view to sharing something. Look at his improvisation technologies project, which is a CD-ROM. That has basically changed the way many young choreographers make choreography, because it has given them an opening to understand some of the frameworks by which he is able to explore choreographic ideas. It’s not about trying to make work ‘in the style of’, but it does offer a point of departure which is notated and understood and the complexities of which are elucidated and understood. That’s where archives and the potential of archives become very exciting.
PC: I forgot to say about our own archive that, under the influence of cinema and particularly the documentaries of Humphrey Jennings, the Crown Film Unit and so on, I developed a series of documentaries that we became known for. That generated the 2500 hours of audiotapes that are in our archive, which consist of interviews with local people in North Staffordshire, such as railwaymen, Primitive Methodists, steelworkers, colliers and the like. Both the documentaries and the source material they generated are inspirational to people who can come to that place and access it. That has worked. I think the current estimation is that there are 2000 degrees in drama in this country, which means there is an enormous number of students. The educational potential of what I have in these cupboards is truly exceptional, and I think that is true of every one of the archives we have been talking about. In an archive there is a way of adding things together to be able to reproduce what has been lost. There are so many ways of putting together all archives to stimulate people with these voices from the past; I think the creative potential is vast.
FF: I always feel that part of our work is to make sure that the material is there for people to use in whatever way they can be inspired by it, and that we’re there initially very much as a company tool for the self-referencing art forms of opera and ballet. We find that a lot of departments within the organisation use us a great deal. Although we do have to make value judgments about what is archived and there will come a point where we don’t have the space to keep as much as we do at the moment, we try to keep a very representative collection, covering all the work of the different departments within the organisation. A very specific example concerns the remounting of the 1946 production of The Sleeping Beauty as part of the Royal Ballet’s seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations. They have gone back to the original designs by Oliver Messel. We had a huge number of costumes in the wardrobe department, photographs and so on. But it is also when the people who’ve danced in that production come in and look at the photos and look at the costumes and their memories come out that you feel the archive is coming to life. Of course, we can’t say what people are going to be using the archive for. Maybe the next person who comes in might be a student who’s writing a very academic dissertation. Although we do make decisions about what is kept, we’re trying to be as broad as possible because we’re not really trying to influence the uses that people might make of the archive. I think the difficulty for us is the one of access, because we’re very limited for space, we’re very limited in staff time. There are huge amounts that can be done with the collection, if we had the money to catalogue it properly, to make it available, to publicise it, to get it out on the web. We don’t currently have the archives on the web because we couldn’t cope with the demand that that would create.
SR: I think that’s quite a common thing for a lot of archives. You don’t want to make them too available, because people would want to use them and the archivist wouldn’t be able to cope. It’s a case of striking a balance and managing expectations.
Woman: So, the answer to the question ‘What is archive?’, seems to be that it depends on the use the organisation is going to make of that archive once they’ve made it.
CB: On so many occasions, we’re trying to convince the Richard Eyres of the world, if you like. That can either be through generic funding from something like the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Arts Council or another body to seek specific funding. Or, as Jackie Davis was saying this morning, it can be by going around with a begging bowl to the production companies, hoping to get embedded into a budget line that archive is actually part of putting on a show in the West End or wherever, so there is an archive line in the budget for it, which either goes to somebody else, like the Video Performance Archive at the Theatre Museum to come and archive it, or for you to do it in-house and it becomes part of your practice. On one hand, there are lots of stories about people who use archives in really exciting, creative ways. I’m fascinated by the way that dance has found values within archiving their work, more than traditional theatre performance, more than opera performance. I think dance and particularly choreographers are using archives in a much more organic, a much more artistic, a much more natural way, if I can put it that way, as Richard Alston suggested this morning. There are lots of ways in which people use it. The problem is converting the unconverted or reaching the artist who, in a very intelligent way, says, “But that was yesterday. What’s tomorrow's show, what’s next week’s show?” That’s the problem, isn’t it? It is obviously the problem for the Theatre Museum as an institution at the moment, because it has this relationship where maybe two thirds of the profession wouldn’t mind if it didn’t exist at all as an archive. And there are a few passionate people within the profession who realise its value to artists, or because they want their moment of immortality or would like their children to be able to see how they acted.
Woman: But they’re not sure if they want their children to see how they acted when the cameras happened to be in because they had a cold that night!
PC: That’s what happens with actors. They will have forgotten about it within two months!
CB: Peter has a very particular archive. It is very particular because so much of Peter’s work in the 1960s, which I saw by the way, and the archive is of the social history of an area, of the Knotty [railway] and of the steelworks. As you outlined, it is a whole range of different kinds of archives. You’re very modest, in a way, Peter. Yours is more than just the archive of an artistic enterprise; it’s the archive of an enterprise within a very particular social context.
PC: It is what was most interesting about us, because it was most unusual. The content of these archives can be a marvellous experience for people. The challenge for me is to give the lie to the reputation that archives have got. My successor on the National Council of Drama Training, Sir Brian Fender, told me that when he was vice-chancellor at the University of Keele he hated archives because they took up so much space and nobody ever used them. Well, there’s no point in having these archives unless we can get people of many ages to come and use them. Bodies like the Arts and Humanities Research Council are primarily interested in second degrees and post-doctoral and wouldn’t encourage undergraduates get hold of primary source materials. That’s why I want to digitise our archive. The new fund administered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) offers money to support digitising so that archive material is available to the largest number of people.
JE: I want to pick up on something that Christopher was saying about how great it would be if we could write in to theatre contracts that archiving should be part of the production process. One of the real problems is the cost of video recording relative to the cost of theatre itself, because the cost of video recording is terribly high. To archive a performance with a high-end, three-camera recording costs about £8000.
CB: Is that what yours costs at the moment?
JE: Yes, and that’s without the production costs; it’s just the cost of equipment and the crew.
Man: Gosh, that’s cheap.
JE: That’s cheap?
JE: It’s nice to know it’s cheap
CB: Just to clarify what is an interesting as well as important point, you are saying that each tape that appears in the Theatre Museum costs £8000, give or take?
JE: No, because we do different qualities of recordings. We may just do it with two cameras and edit it afterwards for £2000, but it won’t look anything like what it looks like when it has three cameras, a film director and has been properly rehearsed.
SM: So you have another professional practitioner, a film director, intervening there.
JE: Yes, but to make a point about that, we always record the wide shots we well, so if anybody has a problem with watching an edited version, which is in a sense an intervention, there is always the wide shot for them.
SM: And do you use split screens?
SM: A number of universities have found the money to introduce split-screen film , so you have a wide shot along the bottom of the screen and then zoom shots and other shots in two upper sections. But it’s hugely expensive.
JE: Yes, and that process makes filming even more expensive. I know there’s been an awful lot of talk about how this should be done and, at the academic level, using a slit screen would be the way of doing it. But with education at a more general level, certainly in schools, the kids really prefer to watch the show itself, rather than actually comparing the shots, so it’s horses for courses.
Man: Can I ask if there is anything to be learnt from the funding of the BBC archive? Presumably, now under total costing, you get a budget. Do you, say for The Archive Hour on Radio 4, get extra money back for that?
SR: No, there’s no direct return; we’re centrally funded.
Man: So, if anybody uses your facilities, they’re not paying for them?
Man: So it’s total costing, in other words?
SR: There used to be a charge of £10 or something like that, which was completely insane. There is some internal costing still. Basically, if a programme uses one of our archive researchers to do some work, then the programme makers have add that to their budget. But our operation in terms of archiving are funded centrally, so there’s no direct correlation between how much the archive is used and how much we get for it.
CB: So Radio Seven is free?
SR: Well, when Radio Seven request something that is on a reel of tape, we automatically put that through our preservation programme. That tape is then preserved through a very high quality process. Radio Seven get it in a format they can use and we get our preservation copy.
SM: Are there any royalty payments to the artists?
SR: Yes, and that’s a huge part of BBC Seven’s work. They will use some programmes because they are cheaper to use than others.
SM: And what about when you receive requests from independent production companies?
SR: The agreements changed about two years ago, so that the independents now have more rights. After five years or so, there a certain amount of use and after that the rights revert completely to the independent production companies.
JE: So what were you wanting out of today?
BM: I was interested in finding out what makes something valuable in an archive, in terms of how to convey information to busy people who want to be thinking about other things. We’re a small company, with an artistic director, a general manager and myself. I would like to go back to them and report that the processes that have in place appear to be about right, that this seems to be the kind of debate that’s going on and this is where value lies. There are value judgments that we need to make: these are the things that we need to decide upon and this is the idea about what best practice is. Guy Baxter helped us and provided us with guidelines when we bestowed our archive to the Theatre Museum. I understand that he’s going to be coming back now that our cardboard boxes have been magically fitted into categories. That’s very nice to know. Now the process is going forward in the sense that, when I give him something now, it will already have a category. That’s the stage we’re at now; I think there’s probably going to be a stage where we also need to know how to make value judgments about how things fit into those categories. Previously, I had thought that archives were unsexy, historical and kind of dead. I’m very passionate about the history of Sphinx, which formerly was the Women’s Theatre Group. To me, it stands for a really important time in British culture that was represented very closely by organisations such as Women’s Theatre Group and Sphinx. It was great for me to be able to go through the archiving process. I thought if I’m getting excited about this, perhaps other people are going to be excited by it and not just from the point of view of somebody who works for the company. It tells me something. What is it telling me? Why does it move me to be looking at this historically and then to be able to see that this was the kind of work they started off with? We had our thirtieth anniversary exhibition at the National Theatre last year and put together a kind of chronology of pictures for it and then thought it would be interesting to put that against the chronology of the major events of contemporary history; of course, there were quite a few similarities. There was nothing novel or profound about what we were doing, but it was very interesting. I thought it was quite valuable. We do get a lot of students coming to us to say they are interested in this. I was one of those students myself a while ago, who was going to companies such as Sphinx and Women’s Theatre Group saying, “I’m interested”. What I’m keen to do is to put sufficient mechanisms in place within our small company so that the information is going to be useful and is out there for people who are passionate about it – because there are people who are passionate about it! But it’s just very hard to manage as a small company.
JE: And are you archiving everything?
BM: Are we archiving everything? We gave everything that we hold to the Theatre Museum, although we kept duplicates of publicity material and photographs that we wanted for ourselves, which we still use on a day-to-day basis. So we have our own duplications, since we need stuff that we use on a regular basis, whether it’s scanning it in and sending it out to people or putting it on our website or whatever. We have our own website archive, but in terms of what we want other people to be able to access, we’ve given that to the Theatre Museum. And a couple of boxes of duplicate material have now come back to us and we need to sort through every item one by one to decide what to throw away and what to keep. I think that’s going to be quite a difficult process, especially for our artistic director, who’s been with the company for the last fifteen years. I’m going to try and say we can throw some of this stuff away: there is no need to keep everything.
SR: I dispose of very little in terms of BBC output now. We’ve also got large backlogs of material, such as DJ shows on Radio One and Radio Two. That’s the kind of stuff most likely to end up being filtered and, largely, disposed of ...
SM: Put it on E-bay.
SR: You can’t sell publicly funded programming like that. It would be lovely if you could, because somebody would want it. But it I went about selecting from that, maybe you’ll pick four or six of those daily shows for each year. The problem I’m trying to get to is that those type of programmes are so poorly documented that it is difficult even to start that selection process. I could do it randomly, but we’re actually deferring those decisions because there is no context; there is no paper record to say who was on who was on a programme on a given day.
BM: I think for us it’s a lot easier since we have one play text missing from thirty years. Other than that, we’ve got all the plays and we know the chronology of them. It’s everything else and how that fits into it in terms of value judgments. I get very excited about photos, because there’s an immediacy there. Some things are on certain formats and the Theatre Museum went ‘Ugh’ at because they’re probably formats that can’t be accessed now.
CB: Somewhere in the heart of Manchester University there is – wait for it – a two-thirds-of-an-inch videotape, taken illicitly in 1969 of a performance by Jerzy Grotowski in the studio. It was one of those rogue formats that existed for about six months, and nobody knows where the tape is now.
SM: The interesting thing is that that was clandestine. I was thinking of your comment earlier, Chris, about this event being focused on dance rather than on theatre process. I was thinking about process because it’s immensely difficult to document a process when someone like Katie Mitchell, working at the National and Old Vic with professional actors of some repute, because of the vulnerabilities of those different participants in the process is such that they don’t want to be seen on record. Whereas, if you’re working with a choreographer and professional dancers, there doesn’t seem to be that sort of vulnerability.
WM: I think that depends on the artists. I would argue that, while she’s working, someone like Katie Mitchell is uncovering things in the process which she needs to keep private. For me, I do not have that kind of question of privacy while making.
CB: There is, I suppose, a cleanliness about the process of dance creation, in that there is a choreographer and a group. Whereas, in the theatre there may well be an author, a writer …
SM: But also psychology is at stake in a way that I don’t think you have with dance. You’ve got a physical discipline, apart from anything else. If you ask a group of dancers to do something, they will work as hard as they can to do that. In theatre, one is asking that the vulnerability of the actor be manifested as a professional tool.
WM: I think you could argue that about dance. That is a slightly old-fashioned view of what the process of dance making is. What we’re interested in is working with individuals who are making psychological and imaginative decisions. They might be expressed differently [from theatre], but to formalise them in the way you have would not be quite accurate. I think people work differently according to what art form they are involved in, but it’s a matter of whether you feel comfortable creating in public or whether you need privacy. It’s also something to do with how one communicates with an artist and what one wants in terms of an archive. If I receive a form asking me to sign permission to archive a piece of work, I usually have a question about it. What is the nature of this recording, what is its value, what it its necessity? Part of the issue is about communicating the real benefits of having an archive, rather than just asking them at some inopportune moment to sign a form.
CB: So what we need is a couple of lists. One list, the easier one, which satisfies education outreach and ticks all the boxes on the Arts Council application form, where you’re talking about your educational outreach; explaining your processes; describing the education packages you’re putting together; where you’re enabling academics and scholars from universities to come and ponder and reflect upon the artistic and the creative process. That’s the easy function of the archive. The harder one needs good examples – and they may well come out of the transcription, because there have been quite a few, for example, in Richard Alston’s talk this morning – of the benefits to the practising artist, over and above the immortality thing. How might a practising artist benefit for her future creativity from the presence of an archive beyond the fact that it’s nice to know it’s there? The latter, of course, is in itself a very powerful motivator.
SM: I think that is very useful.
BM: It’s useful for a company as well.
CB: Companies have another kind of requirement from their funding bodies – from the Arts Council and other project funders – to account for their existence, as it were, and to define themselves, to articulate their mission and say what they’re about, et cetera. And, of course, an archive allows a company to be able to do that, simply by saying that for the last thirty years, we’ve been doing this; we stand for this, we reflect upon this. An archive enables a company to articulate its identity, with clarity and precision and examples. So they’re on the easier side. The harder side, though, which is where we started, is about the benefits of the archive to the artist. It’s interesting that dance appears to be giving the most potent examples of the way in which the presence of an archive is actually important – you mentioned a moment ago that this is a really interesting starting point. And I could sense that new work was coming directly from your association with archive; it wasn’t just intellectual interest (“Oh, where did that come from?”), or a knowledge of my personal journey. But there was a real sense that this is important. This is part of my future creativity.
Man: There is a tradition in dance, more so than in opera and theatre, of recreating works in a very deliberate way.
CB: I was telling Norman Tozer over lunch that I spent just over thirty years in professional theatre design. I used to get a joy out of being part of a strike and chucking scenery on the skip. That’s it, that’s gone, that’s fine. What’s the next challenge? At first, I thought it was just a strange kind of masochism, because the thing over which you had anguished two weeks ago and was the most important thing in your life – chuck it in the skip! It’s over with. But, in fact, talking to a lot of designers, that seems to be part of their trade. They do not keep designs; they do not keep costumes. Costumes designs survive, because they look pretty framed and people like them in their dining rooms. How many times have the BBC set productions in middle-class dining rooms, filled with costume designs? They’re a socially desirable decoration. But scenic designs just disappear.
PC: It depends whose they are, because some designers like to keep things in their portfolios. They take them away, which is another reason why you never find them.
Man: How is it that the broadcasters and film industry have an archive which has become a gold mine? The theatre industry can’t yet create an archive of substance, and who would want it anyway?
BM: Isn’t that to do with re-use? With a film and broadcast archive, it’s all about the contracts signed beforehand allowing things to be re-used and for programmes to be created from clips used in new ways.
SR: Even if it was a live broadcast or a recorded broadcast, it is delivered in the same package it was originally received in. That’s not the same as in the theatre, where you cannot go back in a time-machine to recreate the experience. I wanted to point out that sometimes archives are kept for one reason and they find some other use: for example, we have only kept every daily news bulletin since the beginning of the 1980s. The purpose of doing that began, I’m pretty sure, with short-term re-use: if someone wanted to hear what the Prime Minister say a few months ago. Once you start doing that, you soon have ten or twenty years of archives, and suddenly you have a different use. The BBC wants to create web pages for every day from 1 January 1900 to the present. Where we have BBC material for 25 August 1970, you can add the day’s news bulletin. What we want to do is get people to contribute their own memories to that: this was the day I got married or whatever. Sometimes collections are built up and then deliver an un-guessed at purpose.
Woman: Can I just check that people feel that the questions they’ve raised have been fully discussed? I think the big issues are selection and disposal, and the issue of what is actually to be archived. We’ve discussed around that quite a bit, but there are many things informing it, like these questions of intellectual property and the like. There were some questions about that which seemed to go into dissemination, because this involves accessibility to education institutions and that kind of thing. So I’m not sure the question of what exists has been dealt with at all really, but I don’t know if that’s something that you can deal with as part of the discussion. I suppose the question is: is there anything else that people came to this group with that they feel has not been discussed and that they want to wrap up with?
PC: It’s not an examination question?
Woman: No, not at all; it’s more like I don’t want you to leave saying, “Oh I really wanted to talk about that point”.
SR: There are a couple of practical things. One is to identify and explain what the relevance and archiving live performance.
SM: But there is a difference there between established institutions, which archive their own history, and small companies who are trying to establish an identity and a history that is worth noting.
JE: And there is also a difference between Wayne’s use of the archive for the process of creativity itself.
SR: What the BBC does when it wants to distinguish itself from other broadcasters and show its uniqueness, is to rely on its history and its archives to explain that. That’s exactly what you want to do with the Sphinx and Women’s Theatre Company archive. Your archive establishes you identity and where you were in the nation’s history.
SM: Yes, but the BBC’s identity is given; reasserting that identity is a political and commercial act. In a sense, you’ve got everything within the institution, so the question is one of what you select and to what end. Presumably, Connie, you do not have everything?
BM: In terms of all of the documents that we would like to complete our archive?
SM: And in a sense you are inventing an identity through this process?
BM: I think, yes. It’s like the writing of any history book or point of view or camera angle. You’re only ever documenting one part of what’s happening. I’m sure there’s that one play script that’s missing from the archive that, for all we know, might be the most influential play script of all. So yes, the archive is by no means complete. As part of the process, we did ask people to send in any material they had, which is where discovered some of the richest material that we’ve since copied and catalogued. People who were personally involved held those on to as valuable. Interestingly, those things were much more about the process of making theatre than the actual end performance.
SM: I know there’s a member of Forced Entertainment who says that her most interesting artefact is a scar on her elbow, which she received when she fell from a structure that they had built and was central to a production. They’ve now got photos of that. At the Royal Opera House, you’re providing a facility on the basis that people will use that resource?
FF: I like to say to them that we have a moral obligation to preserve our history. But it’s the fact that it can serve a practical purpose that makes it a more compelling argument. The use of the archives over the last few years has changed enormously and we have become very much part of the education and access side of things.
SM: Does it feed back into creative process finally?
FF: It does, yes, but not as much as we would like. And some of that is just to do with issues of space and the inability to provide as much access as we would like. But the production and wardrobe departments use us quite extensively and we’re trying to build a relationship with the ballet school so that students can come in and use the material as well. So there’s lots of potential for it to be used more, but it has to be there in the first place.
SM: Chris Baugh talked about the difference between the ‘easy’ function, which is to archive for academic uses, and the other, ‘hard’ one, which is to archive for practising artists’ creative development.
JE: I feel that each of us in this room has a different need from an archive; therefore, the archive that each has or would set up would be different.
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