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



Transcripts — Learning experience: innovative use of archives

Speakers:

Funmi Adawole (FA)
Theresa Beattie (TB)
Gavin Clarke (GC)
Jacqueline Davis (JD)
Jo Elsworth (JE)
Ursula Everett (UE)
Peter Hulton (PH)
Michael Huxley (MH)
Melanie Peart (MP)
Jane Pritchard (JP)
Joshua Sofaer (JS)
Sarah Whatley (SW)
Claire Wellsby (CW)

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

Jane Pritchard: We’re here to talk about innovative uses of archives and focus generally on the learning experience.

Gavin Clarke: I think it might by instructive to start with what the common practice is for engaging with students from undergraduate level, from school level and the different learning groups we want to bring in and encourage to use archives. The experience at the National Theatre is that, because we are such a small archive, we’ve only been able to do things on an ad hoc basis. I encourage drama schools to send groups in, so we run an induction for them and introduce them to the documentation that relates to individual roles in the professional theatre. This is to make explicit to them what the working day is like in the theatre and what evidence remains from that day. Perhaps because we capture more information about the process of creating a show than most other places, we offer a unique resource to allow people to engage with those roles before they actually experience them. Due to staff and budgetary constraints there are many things we would like to do that we can’t do now, such as engaging with people via the Internet, attracting bigger groups, going out to groups with primary sources. I think that is key to what we want to achieve: encouraging the use of primary sources and developing a culture where students acknowledge the worth of those.

Claire Wellsby: I wonder when we talk about learning experience, are we specifically talking about the education sector or are we broadening our discussion to include general public learning resources?

Jacqueline Davis: We should talk about students so that it gets on map and then broaden it out. The suggestions I have for students are different from those I have for the general public.

Jane Pritchard: So are we going to begin by thinking about the formal education areas and then move on to general learning as a second stage?

Theresa Beattie: I think it would be useful to ensure that we touch on the learning experience of artists.

Gavin Clarke: There was a point made earlier about what use is an archive to artists. I think there is a blind-spot in many of the creative performing arts people that I come across, in that they don’t use archives. A simple point in promoting archives is that if a performing artist gives you material then another one can look at and be stimulated by it, so cumulatively it grows up. Instead of worrying about the anxiety of influence, which a lot of artists cite, you can introduce them to other materials that they are likely to know in some form, those materials can then form part of the creative process.

Jo Elsworth: The University of Bristol Theatre Collection is an archive that’s open to anybody for any purpose. The one gap among users that we have is practitioners and artists, who don’t tend to use the archives. From a theatre point of view, practitioners do not generally use us. That might change now that we have the live art archives in place, and it will be interesting to see if our stakeholders change as a result. We have one example where we are using archives in an innovative way in terms of learning and teaching. We teach an MA in Cultural Performance, with a 12-week module based in the Theatre Collection using the archive of one theatre company, Welfare State International. The students explore that archive and look at routes through the archive. At the end of the process, they produce a seminar that basically reconstitutes a performance of something that Welfare State International has done and the students use that as a springboard for their own creative work. The seminar is assessed on how they can resuscitate the archive and how they can understand things from it. They then produce a portfolio, which is an installation-type work reflecting their personal creative response to what they have seen in the archive. It can be sourced from the archive but can be about completely different. That is a very successful course and, from my point of view, it is fabulous to see people use the archive in a totally different and creative way.

[Woman]: Does the archive include records of the process of how a work was made?

JE: Yes, that particular archive includes a lot of records of processes: it has the artistic director’s notebooks, for example, and also correspondence. At the moment, that archive contains very little visual material, which is kept with the theatre company. It is almost a process-based archive, rather than a product-based one.

[Woman]: Just to go back to that point, I’ve found it very difficult in my research to encourage directors to engage in recording the process aspect. Some are more interested in that than others. Because they are working in text-based theatre, I think that that information is very important to be able to unpick the knowledge of process. I think the process of making is where there are some very exciting things to be discovered. It is about asking directors to reveal their secrets.

GC: There have already been a few mentions of better documentation of process. I think that is naive, because very few groups are going to want any outsider within the creative process. Even when we put a rehearsal photographer in a room for half a day, people get upset about it. There is a standardisation to the way things are documented, so you get rehearsal notes, prompts, rehearsal drafts of scripts, correspondence and such things. But that is not always possible for smaller theatres to do. And you have to be realistic about what you can get. People aren’t going to change their practice for the archive, and they shouldn’t. Although we’re interpreting the material in archives, you don’t want to overstep the line and start influencing the creation of the work.

Sarah Whatley: Can I ask how that process of how the archive is managed between you as archivist and the institution and, indeed, between academics and the institution? How does the chain link up in terms of the archive’s management? I guess a question that’s for anybody.

JE: We tend to be quite reactive in that somebody comes to us and says, “Here’s our archive – would you like it?” It may or may not contain a complete record of their work. We are more proactive in the case of other archives, where they are on loan from an organisation and we can say what we are and are not interested in: for example, we can say we don’t want your petty cash and bar receipts, but we do want prompt copies, please. It’s more ad hoc than people imagine.

[Woman]: You gave the nice example of the MA module growing out of the archive. How did that develop?

JE: It was led by an academic, Professor Baz Kershaw, who established that programme with a particular end in mind. There’s a good dialogue between us and Bristol University department of drama.

GC: That’s the most specific and pragmatic way of exploiting a theatre collection from a more creative perspective that I’ve heard of, but there are others that I can think of in recent times. There’s an artist residency at the Henry Moore Archive, the Lambeth Archive and a few others. I think this is an interesting way of engaging students especially to look at diverse uses of materials and not just the use of them for a dissertation, to write a book or for journalism. A performance may develop out of the use of archive materials.

Michael Huxley: It seems to me that at your university, Jo, you have both an archive and a module connected with it right on-site. In terms of management, it’s relatively straightforward to put the two together. Thinking of ResCen, it offers something very similar, but there is only a small number of HE institutions that do this. The majority relationship is between the HE institution that doesn’t have an archive and the archive that doesn’t have a HE institution, and the challenge concerns the extent to which you can bring these together. Okay, there are certain institutions where there is a model that already appears to work and there are all sorts of connections that we might explore. This goes back to Chris Bannerman’s point earlier today about doing things ecologically, about putting things together in a symbiotic way, rather than trying to impose new structures.

[Woman]: I want to mention two examples that might be of interest. One was in […], run by the BBC. They had bursaries for individual artists to come into their archives and create work around what they saw. I think the spread was quite wide: it could be a visual artist, a filmmaker or a performance artist. But you had to present a proposal as to what you wanted to do and then you had access to the archive for a period of time in order to come up with a performance or a work of art. The other example came from the Association of Libraries and Archives. They held a free event at the Tower of London, which was intended to encourage artists and teachers to use museums and archives. They brought in a story-teller in the afternoon who gave an illustration of how she could animate the archive by telling stories involving children with objects in a museum setting. There were people who were trying to develop that way of opening up the archive to the public: for example, there was a man from the Children’s Society with an archive of the biographies of children who had gone through the organisation. They had run projects with other children writing up ‘ghost’ biographies after reading the case notes, and were considering bringing a theatre company in because they wanted to use drama as a way of opening up and animating the documents for the general public.

JP: I think there’s a quite significant movement in that way of using archives. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but you have come down the level of education in some of the areas you’re talking about. When I was at Rambert, one of the schools projects we did locally in Hammersmith was to take two productions that we had created there to put together portfolios that students could learn about past productions and use that as the starting point for the next thing. That was possible with a company that has an education department, because the archive sits in a different area than an archive that is completely separate. It is somewhere between the case of the archive that is affiliated with a university, where you have students who you can put together with the archive, and stand-alone archives that may or may not have some education role within the organisation. There seem to be a lot of different areas that we haven’t considered yet.

[Woman]: Why I mentioned that last example is because of the discussion we are having about creating a structure for bringing groups together. In this case, what the Association of Libraries and Archives did was to try and draw interest from practitioners and teachers who might then think how they could use archives to work with their institutions.

GC: Yes, Open Days are great. But every model of archive, to greater or lesser extent, requires some enthusiast or animateur to open it to groups which aren’t used to coming in. That can even be an online figure, who can guide you through the initial process of how archives are created. I think it is part of the job of open days, of the Archives Awareness Month, and so on, to engage with performing artists, and also to find people from the profession – actors, directors, whoever – to unlock the archives, people who are involved with the creation of the documents that we hold to tell users about them and how they document their day-to-day work.

MH: There’s a really interesting opportunity there. If you’re talking about making the link between the archive and the academy, and want to extend that to school as well, for sure, having somebody specific there means that they can work within the archive and also do outreach work. In other words, you don’t have your student group turning up at the archive cold, as it were; they have been briefed before hand, so it is a two-way process. Is that right, Gavin?

GC: Yes, absolutely. But it’s also something for archivists to take onboard themselves. They need to educate themselves in how to do this, because oftentimes there are not going to be the resources necessary to engage someone to do this outreach work; they have to develop programmes to attract new users. Something to be concentrated on in approaching students is to get to them at the youngest possible age. I don’t know if we’re pitching this discussion primarily at the undergraduate level, but if students are used to using archives from age ten upwards, then there is going to be no disinclination or misunderstanding about the worth of them when they get to undergraduate level. I assume that the quality of work will improve as a result. Certainly a clearer understanding of good research practice will be cultivated.

Kate Flatt: We’re part of an organisation that has undergraduates and postgraduates. It also has an education and community input, and an artists’ input, because a lot of artists want to put material into our library and archive. We’re working on a three-year funded programme at the moment to bring more boys from the age of nine to fifteen into dance, to try to overcome the idea that the activity is to some extent for girls. As part of the programme, our archivist has gone out to talk to them to record what they’re doing for their projects. One of the things she did was to talk to them, asking how they would like to be recorded, how they would like their work to be seen, how they think it might be received. So here are people in their process creating an archive that somebody else could look at it, which is about getting them to think in terms of recording what they are doing.

[Woman]: I think that is a key thing about how you want something to be documented. I once worked on a project, which was about directors and programmers working together. I said that I thought they should record it, but they said it would only make lots of tapes that would gather dust on the shelves. So I suggested that we edited those together to get the key moments that could be useful. It was a case of extraction of the material from tapes that would gather dust to create a more user-friendly document, something that becomes much more helpful to its use by a particular target group. The director needs to know that they can have a document that can be useful, so it’s a question of picking those moments that make the possible the dissemination of yards and yards of unedited material and turning it into something where there are salient learning points. That process of picking out the “best of” is a complicated process. I know it sounds a bit of a fast-food example, but I think we need that process. If someone wants to go further, the original masters still exist. It’s to do with how you make the “bites” useful and involve the maker of the art, so they can decide what would excite them if they were coming to this. This unlocked a fantastic energy that archives sometimes lack.

Peter Hulton: Once something enters into the digital realm, I think all sorts of lovely things that can happen. Not only does the original material have to be edited with a view to what are the most important moments, as you were saying, but also you can now produce, digitally, evidence of these processes that are not mono-focal. In other words, you’re not just dealing with a bit of video that is looking at the way someone is doing something. On DVD-ROM, for example, it’s possible to have graphics, to have words, to have a whole navigational way of viewing the person who is making this material and the ways they are making their particular route and connections through this material. That has great inspirational possibilities. Once material is in a digital format, it can be accessed online; moreover, students can extract key moments for their own essay writing. I would love to see, where possible, students quoting from original material, so one is beginning to use digitisation to ask people to look with great discrimination at what this practice is. I think, in general terms, this wonderful thing will help us see more clearly the extraordinary complexity of what’s going on with the people who are making the work. This will help pinpoint the various facets of the creative process.

JD: I’m glad you went first, because what I want to say is that I was recently invited to Columbia University for the purpose of seeing a new project. Columbia has given this man a team to do digital work and connected him to various professors within the university. ‘Fair use’ enters into this, because this work is exclusive to the university setting and its students. He gave us examples of student papers where they are required to use, in addition to words, digitised visual images and illustrations. He turned to us because we are also about education. We’re still trying to figure out ways in which we might work together, because we have the material. This goes back to the nature of the question we’re talking about: students and broadening the ecology. As far as I’m concerned, the only things that keep us from doing that are money and, as I’ve said ten times already today, copyright. But because this is an initiative taking place within an institution, ‘fair use’ can be argued for.

MH: The sort of learning experience we’ve been talking about for the last fifteen minutes has been multi-dimensional, about taking lots of different materials and putting them together, finding ways of engaging people from postgraduates all the way down to school students. All of that’s great. But my provocative statement is to say that, from my experience of first-year undergraduate students, is that this goes against the grain of the ethos with which they have come out of school – at the moment. When it comes to that idea of extending this down into the school system, even down to age ten, I wholly concur with that because it is about a different engagement with this type of material. I’m deliberately being provocative, because so many, if not all, undergraduate students come with the specific focus of, “What do I need to learn to pass my exam?” They’re not looking anywhere else. Anything we can do, by this process of broadening, seems to me to be a very good thing.

CW: Coming back to what you were saying earlier about digitising archive material, once you’ve made something accessible by DVD-ROM or the Internet, it becomes something else, because people can do different things with that material that can’t necessarily be done when it’s in its physical state. It can reach more people, for example, or take on interactive elements. The same data or materials can be framed in different ways for different audiences. One of the truly awesome things about broadband Internet is its ability to multi-task in that way and make sense of archive material for different audiences, whether they be undergraduate students, artists or ten-year olds. You focus and create the information around the material for different purposes. All archives cannot do everything for everybody, but the questions for each is what do they want to do, what is this archive for, is it for schools, university students, the public and so on. I guess the answers will determine how innovative those archives can be.

JP: In terms of innovation, innovation does not always have to be digital.

CW: No.

KF: I think sometimes we get into this thing of believing that we need to throw technology at a problem, and that’s not the answer. At Laban, a bit like Jo’s example from Bristol, our second-year students do a historical project and there has been quite a bit of academic work running alongside the practical business of recreating pieces. This year, for the first time, we included material that was available in the archive for the recreation of those pieces by certain choreographers. It is very simple archive material, but what it is saying to a second-year undergraduate student is that here is a whole range of things from which you can produce a ten-minute seminar showing that you had some response to this material and working with this choreographer’s work. The innovation, in a way, is about making the archive accessible to students now in their second year, so that when it comes to doing postgraduate work, they will already know about the archive.

Funmi Adawole: There seems to be a theory of learning and a theory by which knowledge is ordered, called epistemology, which is not available to everybody. Forms of dance are not yet in mainstream education: for example, North African choreographers or Caribbean choreographers. You will find students who, at the end of a year, want to write a dissertation don’t know what to look for. All the information is being archived right under their noses, but they will not investigate it because it has not been ordered. For people to become that innovative, they have to be set up in their learning. While I’ve been at ADDA, I’ve been approached by university students and have been amazed by the number wanting interviews for their theses on Katherine Dunham. Great asKatherine Dunham is, it’s amazing that no-one is really investigating to what’s happened to Phoenix Dance Company or the choreographers around it. They do that because the information already exists on Katherine Dunham and its possible to see what she did as a choreographer. It is this theory of learning, what’s expected of a student, which also needs to be disseminated so that, in brokering relationships between organisations, it should be possible to suggest trying this or that archive. Some students don’t even know who to write to, for example.

[Woman]: I would like to back that up. I was at a meeting of the University Museums Group recently and there was a lot of talk about how university museums could encourage undergraduates and how most university museums felt that there was greater potential there than was being used. Once you’ve engaged a student, that’s it; they’re off. That tactile thing of engaging with real material was what they loved. But getting to that stage is quite difficult. I see people who graduate and come back in to do research as part of that professional life.

GC: Part of the answer to that is to create some formalised structures where we have connections. It’s partly the fault of university professors, who don’t set up these programmes, and partly the fault of the archivists, who don’t go to the professors, and so on. We need to get some kind of network or even individual connections between archives and university departments where it’s part of the programme for students to visit the archive so they can discover the process of working there and what they can expect to get out of it. From there, they can follow that research to other institutions. That’s what a lot of people here are saying: that we’re not connected up at all. Whether that means creating an authoritative Internet portal for the performing arts, which is what Backstage does in a way, or whether that means individual networks and connecting individual university programmes to primary source materials, I think this is where the development lies.

[Woman]: I think that is a really good idea, because the lack of information about what is a big difficulty. Students do take the easy route if they can find it, and if they don’t find the easy route, many of them will not take any route at all. I’m fully supportive of a digital archive as part of what’s available, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. Students need to get the richest possible experience and the broadest range of material, so they can access and play with it in different ways. They may become the archivists of tomorrow.

JD: I’m thinking about what you’ve just said about taking the information and making it available to the student population, so they are led to the trough in ways that require them to look at material and documentation so they will eventually understand what is possible. I’d like to take that a step further. Earlier you talked about the expanded ecology. I worked for twenty years in a university, so I feel reasonably comfortable in saying this. What if, to expand that ecology, there were identified works and then identified sister and brother institutions, where the information was online. No one is going to agree to teach the same course, but let’s say there were certain general principles and certain dance and theatre pieces available as part of it. Let’s say you had the ‘fair use’ digitised archive relating to each piece, the artist’s material and so on. Perhaps five or six institutions could share this material as a demonstration project, out of which one could move to build a bigger communications circle. This is where everyone appears to stop. How do you get from working with your own institution to reaching out. As an example, we are doing this dance project and, after a year of working with a lot of people, the idea we came up with was that the first step could be a digitisation project that involved identifying institutions interested in partnering their own archive information with us at the Performing Arts Library. The access would only be to them, because of copyright issues. But in the end we would begin to develop a larger ecology than what we are talking about now, because you are sharing with these university institutions and their students. It has to be done in a way that takes copyright issues fully into consideration but that kind of project moves into a larger ecology of sharing.

[Woman]: You’re talking about key works?

JD: Yes.

[Woman]: About key works from a number of institutions being accessed through a portal?

JD: Yes. That’s where we started. I think the complicated part comes when you’re working with producing organisations and dealing with the politics of getting folks to say, “Yes, sure – I’d like to share that with ten institutions”. I don’t know where you go with that.

Joshua Sofaer: Is think it’s fair to say that this kind of model is very highly developed in terms of articles and published materials, where there are portals you can go and gain limited access by signing-in. That is already there but for a different kind of information. The problem is still about the level of technology and catching up with the distribution networks that are already in place. Soon everything will be developed through these portals to our home entertainment systems or workstations.

JD: The technology is not the issue for me; the real issue is the willingness of all the people who are involved in the arts community. The technology is there, but the funding to have the digitisation and agreements with the people involved are issues to be addressed. They are not necessarily stumbling blocks, but we need to say who we want to partner with, what are the works that we want, and, particularly, what kinds of institutions are going to make it possible for students to learn best. That’s where the conversation begins. Yes, those things do exist. But I don’t think they exist on the level where students are getting the best possible opportunities.

MH: One of the things that comes out of what Jacqueline is saying is both the ability and willingness to network. With my Palatine hat on, I would say that within the UK, there is that possibility of networking through the Subject Centre, which is set up in the supportive if not the technological sense. If that idea emerges here, that is one way of taking it forward nationally and trans-nationally. Otherwise, you put together a couple of universities, a couple of archives and expand a little, and how do you make everybody else know about that. How do you make it known that at Bristol there is a really good resource on […], not so that everybody descends on your archive, but so that people do not try to reproduce it somewhere else. That sort of reproduction by duplication simple does not go anywhere; a reproduction that adds to the existing collection in a symbiotic way is a completely different thing. All sorts of things are possible by networking of this kind.

JS: I wonder if there’s a case for some kind of central database listing what is in each archive.

[Woman]: That exists. It’s called Backstage and is the central database for all performance arts. There are several of us here in the room who have contributed to it.

JS: I find it amazing that I work for the Research Centre for the Performing Arts and don’t know about it.

JP: I think that flags up one of the big problems: where things like Backstage exist, their profile is not high enough. Their profile is not even high enough within academic institutions. That is cause for real concern. Something that could come out of today would be to build up proper networks so that information gets round. I suspect that every academic institution did have information about Backstage when it was happening, but these things often do not get to the right people. There are networks for the performing arts; there are networks for music. But I am surprised at how few people know about them, unless they hit them by mistake when they make a Google search. That is not to say that enough already exists about what is available in collections. One of our biggest problems is one of making people really aware of where holdings are in the sort of depth that they need to know. This is a huge problem in terms of manpower, because it takes a lot of people a lot of time to do the job in a way that is worthwhile.

CW: Just a point on the database. One of the things I find when I was doing a lot of research was that some databases are better than others. I didn’t find databases that can be searched just by name or company name to be that user-friendly. I think we have to create databases that are more intuitive in the way they connect with artists’ works and periods of work. That is a challenge in itself and also requires considerable manpower. It’s also possible to have databases that respond to the way people are using them, to the routes they follow to access information. That could be used to map organically how things fit together in real people’s experience and research and allow them to come across things they might not have found.

GC: There are quite a few simple technical add-ons to help people do this type of thing. For example, there is one pictures database online that allows people to tag a photo with whatever terms they want [http://flickr.com/]. If something is culturally specific to one group, they can add in those terms; if it means something else to another group, they can add in those terms and be searched by any of them. Creating such flexible access is already possible and the development of link servers and open URLs [http://library.bma.org.uk/bmalibrarybulletin/previous_issues/issue4/
html/feature4.htm
] to facilitate one-click access and intuitive portals and swickis are exciting developments [http://archival-swicki.eurekster.com/].

[Woman]: We’re talking about the value of students’ relationship to archives. It’s very important that they continue to have access to those archives once they’ve graduated, so that the habit of researching and referencing source materials continues over their professional lives. Something I noted in my previous role at The Place, was that often in discussions a hunger to find out more, to research and understand the history would come up, but there was not much knowledge about where that information could be found. Creating this habit of archive use feels like it is very important.

GC: There are various groups operating totally independently, but they don’t seem to know about each other at all. And then there are the universities’ departments and research offices, which I don’t feel are fulfilling the role of advocating the use of archives, but maybe that’s the fault of archivists, too. Traditionally, archivists have been pretty bad at promoting what they hold; they’re pretty good at collating it and making it accessible, but if no one knows it’s there, how can they open it up?

FA: I would say that universities have been very good at advocating the use of archives and suggesting possibilities of research to students. In terms of an action plan, is it possible to form a group of people who can draw up some strategies that each organisation can implement internally. For example, hearing about Backstage now, we should put that on the ADAD website. We were about to start listing all the places where we could find information, but I realise that we would probably be spending 2000 on duplicating what already exists. Rather than spend that money, why not put a link to Backstage on our website? If we draw up strategies like that for every organisation here today and get them to promote these internally, it might help everyone.

JP: I think there are lot of problems here. Yes, things need to have a higher profile – I think it’s true that every aspect of the performing arts appears to have too low a profile, both within its own world and within related worlds, such as education. There leaflets on all the tables today about SIBMAS, which is the international organisation for libraries and museums of the performing arts, but a lot of people do not know that it exists. This is not a unique problem. One of the things about today is that it should make another area of people aware of what archives have to offer. The issue of people needing to have more education about archives should be built in to more courses, at whatever level, whether school projects or at university. This will mean that people will begin to ask about archives and where they can find things. It seems to me that we are starting something here. When I started, I asked people a huge number of questions and eventually discovered that all the answers existed somewhere.

JD: Jane, my experience is that every time I go to a conference everybody is passionate and then they go away and get on with their work. But what about if there was a list of people here today who agreed to be on it and there was another agreement that they would simply write against their name, ‘See Backstage’, for example, so you could all become more informed about what exists in your backyard. The comments that you have could be forwarded to the people here, so you would suddenly have this wide network of information.

JP: It seems to me that there are things like the Theatre Information Group list serve that ought to be enlarged considerably so that more people start to get their information and become aware of the sort of things that are out there.

MH: To follow Jacqueline’s point, I think the crucial thing is to take everybody who is here today. If you look at the list of everybody who is here today, for sure, a lot of them are working in archives and are archivists. But there are also artists and a range of other people. I have written networking down and underlined it twice: it’s about how you do the networking. There are sufficient people here who have sufficient interest in other related networks today to hit just about all the places we have been talking about. We can hit other archives and archivists who aren’t here through Backstage; we can hit HE through Palatine and Subject Centre; we can hit others through the Scope mailbase and the […] mailbase. As soon as you put in those connections, the network spreads outwards.

JD: I think it’s important to start small, because people try to change the world and then nothing happens.

JP: Are there any other points that people want to make or want to bring out within this session?

JS: We were talking about learning experiences with students. I think it’s important to bear in mind that, historically, many archives have been of most use to people studying, but I don’t think that means there is no great popular interest in looking back at forms of performance art.

JP: I think you’re absolutely right. Archives are increasingly being used by non-formal students. They are attracting a lot of people and we need to open their doors to them and attempt to understand how we can help them.

JS: Perhaps I can give a useful parallel. There’s a museum of design, packaging and advertising which I visited recently, with exhibits displayed chronologically. I heard people saying, ‘Ooh, do you remember that?’ They were recalling various stages of life. I think the performing arts has, in the same way, a trajectory that moves and changes, and people identify with that. There is a popular engagement there that is totally untapped.

TB: That popular interest could also provide a potential income stream.

Kate Flatt: I’d like to go back to the ‘trade secrets’ and the idea that archiving ‘the hidden stuff’ is going to damage the creative process, this notion of how the archive reveals something of how the practitioner works. It’s really important for the practitioner to be able to control the copyright of what happens with that material. But it’s also important to show people how dance and theatre is made, because that is not widely understood.

GC: I think those questions are probably best addressed by theatre education departments or a university rather than by an archive. There is only so much you can do with archival material to animate that process? Archivists can demonstrate interpretive possibilities for archive material but principally they should not be directing research.

KF: But doesn’t digitisation offer the potential to engage the archive with new ways of seeing, understanding and interpreting what is being presented? Perhaps there is a much bigger role for the archive today than there might have been in the past.

GC: I hope so, but you have to have the material in the first place to be able to digitise it. You have to be quite specific about what extra material you are going to gather. I don’t think any other interference in the rehearsal or creative process is going to be welcomed by many companies.

KF: But there are artists who are happy to record the process for their own understanding. I think there are times when they are keen to make the process transparent. But that has to be led by the artists.

GC: There is always a role for pro-active collecting of things like oral history, asking people to keep rehearsal diaries or just photographing around the rehearsal process, rather than in the rehearsal venue. There are various things you can do.

PH: Digital technology is so accessible; people have got it and theatre companies are constantly recording their own work in the process of making. I suspect you will find that there is an awful lot of material out there that can eventually come in to the archive. I think it’s a tremendous advantage to the artist. I remind myself that I started being interested because I happened to see a student of Laban’s doing something on film. Who had bothered to film that? Who was she? What was she doing? There was this article, if you like, that set me off on twenty-five year’s work. One has to believe that people will come across things in the archive and be inspired in their own way.

MH: Can I follow one or two of those points through? In your archive, Jo, with the Four Steps material, how much of that relates to process rather than product?

JE: You’re thinking of the Live Art Archives?

MH: Yes.

JE: One of the Live Art Archives that most people know of is the National Review of Live Art. That is mainly about product; there is very little about process in it. We’re beginning a project to digitise that archive, which amounts to about 800 hours of material. The cost of digitising 800 hours of material is about 3000, which is big money. The artists have given us permission to digitise this material on condition that it does not sit on a server and we have complete control of it on DVD, so they know there is absolutely no way that is going out online. It can be used by anyone who comes in for education purposes onsite at the Theatre Collection, but there’s no way they want those things going out. As technology changes, I think people will become more confident in the control, but that’s the situation at the moment. When we take other collections in to the traditional archives in the Theatre Collection, we try to make an oral history recording with the donor, if they’re still around, and talk about what inspired them, what the roots were for particular pieces of work. So we’re now trying to complement our traditional paper-based archive with oral history recordings. Some people give very factual, chronological explanations; others give amazing insights into the sorts of things you’re all talking about. After hearing this dialogue about product and process today, I’ll be going back to work and saying, ‘Let’s explore more the idea of process’. For me, oral history recording would be more the way forward with that, rather than trying to document the process at the time of creation in any other way.

JD: I’m reminded of how complicated it is to go back to an artist or company in order to assess what the process was. We went to[…] and her company but […] came back to me, because I have known her for a long time, and said that this was not the way the process worked. We had to work with her. Please understand that, even though it was her work and she was telling the story in her way, they were performing it the way they saw it. This concept of process is sometimes by intellectual accident. I was talking to someone today who told me they were the narrator because somebody else lost their voice! There are reasons why these things happen and they can be very hard to document.

GC: I can give a quirky example of process being documented from Nottingham Trent University Chameleons, a small theatre group. They have produced DVDs of the process and of the games they play to get in to character. That’s an interesting example, but it’s quite an involved business of showing how the process works and it stands apart from the theatrical process of creating those characters and creating the performance. It has been reproduced as an explication of what’s going on. It’s much more difficult to catch it on the run.

KF: But it must be possible to record what is going on in real time.

GC: Are you suggesting putting a camera in the rehearsal room?

KF: Yes.

GC: So many companies won’t allow that, but if it’s well done it can be very interesting: for example, www.stagework.org.uk and the South Bank Show’s recording of the NT’s Henry IV production in 2005.

PH: Truthfully, it is changing. I remember fifty years ago, I used to see people skinned alive for using a camera. Apparently, we are recorded on camera something like fifteen times on average a day. People are quite used to being caught on camera now, and it can provide the interface with the creative process.

MH: Susan Melrose introduced the idea of the process of making work that ends in finished product. I want to ask archivists whether they think they can extend that notion of process of making an artwork to the education process. In my own field of research, the one area that is remarkably badly written is the whole process of education in dance and, to some extent, drama. When I was at the New York Public Library’s Dance[…], one of the joys I had was to be able to read some of Margaret Dobie’s […] diaries and some of the interviews with her as an educator, because fifty years on, you could look back at the work of someone who started the first BA in dance in the United States and see what she was doing then. Without that sort of prescience at the time, we wouldn’t be able to look at that material and see why what she was doing was really important. I guess this is to say that people should keep the scope open, so that material from the education world can come in to the performing arts archive.

CW: In respect of licensing and looking at where things are going, I hope we are slowly moving away from our anxieties about technology and about stealing our knowledge. For the contemporary artist, there is a fear of giving access to work online for whatever reason. Maybe there are two reasons that we’ll continue losing those fears. Firstly, things like Creative Commons provide artists with the power to make decisions over the use of their work and how it is accessed. Second, the fact that many artists and organisations are publicly funded in the UK means that they have a responsibility to the general public to get their work out that. I hope that these two things will, in the longer term, will be embedded in future practices and the attitudes and feelings of performers.



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