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

Transcripts – Edit 1

ResCen Seminar: Performance As Knowledge – #2


Chris Bannerman (CB)
Jacqueline Davis (JD)
Richard Alston (RA)
Susan Melrose (SM)
+ other panel members unknown to transcriber

Transcriber: Janet Reeve

Duration: 24 minutes


CB: And now for questions, comments and responses to anything you’ve heard so far today.

Woman: I would like to ask two questions. The first concerns [Jacqueline Davis and] the issue of the unions. Are they concerned about piracy and does this also relate to new media? Can you tell me why, if this work has such commercial currency, why it isn’t being documented and released commercially? My second question is for Chris and concerns the bigger issue of national archives and cultural archives. You touched on the visual arts archives and questions around who makes the selections. I am wondering about what seems like a separate strategy for the performing arts, especially concerning the area that I’m involved in, live art and performance art. So, I’m really interested in the kind of practices that we’re talking about and where the kind of work that I’m involved in fits within that larger picture. Bex Carrington is here from the University of Bristol’s Live Art Archive, which originated at Trent University very much to look at relationships across the visual and performing arts. Now that the archive has moved to the Theatre Collection in Bristol, what does that say about the kind of practices that are being documented? What does it say about the relationship across art forms, and why aren’t we distinguishing between archives of conceptual things, art practice and experimental performance practice?

JD: The first question related to the commercial viability of what is sitting in the Performing Arts Library. I’ll respond by looking at the theatre archive, which is the most strictly regulated. I referred to piracy, but let me say that the actual tape, the content, is [as the object is ?????], a distinction of which I’m sure you’re all aware. It’s not just piracy that the unions are concerned about. It’s their job, of course, to protect the work and rights of actors, set designers, lighting designers, etc. They don’t want people coming in [to the library] to see work when they could be seeing it on Broadway, off Broadway or in some theatre. That’s just part of the answer. Even if work is now gone and, for example, is no longer on Broadway, it might be revived. There is a way to be able to show a tape, however, which involves getting permissions for specific use from absolutely everyone involved in the production, as I mentioned. And, yes, there certainly is commercial viability. Just think about it: if you took any of the tapes and were to sell it, then there would be the potential of earning money. I had this conversation with Paddy Lapone, a great artist then starring in Sweeney Todd. [She told me that the cast and production team] gave their permission because they wanted that documentation to be in the library. Artists are not interested in it being sold for any commercial use and have made that very clear to me, in several different kinds of conversations. I’ll describe it, and perhaps it sounds too Pollyanna-ish, but they’ve described it in very elegant terms, explaining that they’re hoping for immortality for the work and for people to be inspired by it. But they are not interested in any of that work being used for commercial use. You have the problem of people who might say I don’t want that work to be used for commercial purposes. Perhaps you might get lucky and find an entire production where every single person [– and I really underline the point of how many people are in a production – agreed to a tape being made into a commercial product]. [????But by the time you paid all the points????] to everybody in the production it’s not a job I want to undertake. [Even if there might be the mini-potential occasionally to do that, it would divert so much effort in that direction away from what we really need to be doing to raise funds just to get the work done and to continue the process of documentation. That is where we need to keep our efforts right now.]

Jill Evans: Jill Evans from the National Video Archive. To add to what you’ve just said, I understand from the actors that we’ve approached to use recordings we’ve made in a more commercial fashion that they feel very strongly that their performances were for the audience, not for the camera. I think there’s a strong feeling from the acting profession that if a production is going to be made available commercially, it needs to be taken out of the theatre, re-lit and recorded specifically for that purpose. That is different to the documenting kind of recording that we do.

[???AS: Is there something missing here from Lois Keidan, or is the last para mis-attributed to Jill Evans???]

[???CB???]: Thank you for that. I guess, Lois, my response is two-fold. The first part is that I would be worried if my ideas about the sector were dominant today. Of course, that’s a strange thing to say at this point in the day. I hope that, if I’m wrong, other people will feed into that, create a different kind of environment and will see the environment very differently. The other part of it is that I felt I was responding to distinctions that other people had made. I think I’d like to see very much a kind of seamless spectrum. There may, however, be practitioners who prefer the limnality that distinctions provide, who may not want the seamless kind of connection. But I would prefer to see that kind of spectrum. It appears to me that we may not be on the spectrum – by ‘we’, I mean the performing arts – although we have to address a particular set of difficulties. And, again the people I was speaking to at that particular point might be more concerned with things like comprehensive reviews, in which Government allocates amounts of money centrally from the Treasury to various departments. There’s an aspect of this that might have to be very particular in relation to those sorts of things [???what sort of things???]; if we did want to progress this area of work and create a more equal spectrum of activity, then probably we’re going to have to engage with some of those arguments and make a particular kind of case. I would be disturbed if that were prejudicial to certain kinds of art practices, which are very important.

Alda Terracciano (AT): I’m Alda Terracciano, director of Future Histories, an art and heritage organisation devoted to preserving archives and disseminating the history of African, Caribbean and Asian performing arts in the UK. I was very interested in what [Funmi????] was saying earlier. We have had conversations in the past and know that it’s very difficult to disseminate [???what???] It’s difficult to archive, initially because it’s difficult to convince people that they can trust institutions. At Future Histories we aim to create as many bridges as possible, and as many connections as possible. We have worked in collaboration with Middlesex University, with the Theatre Museum, with the national archives. What I ask the panel– and probably everybody here – is: how can we translate the process which is at the core of performing arts, that never-ending process? As Professor Melrose has said, performance continues in the mind of the audiences, so how can we translate that process in the actual archiving process? We have tried to do that by directly involving artists in naming describing and selecting the objects. That’s what we have been doing. But I wonder what can be done across the sector? How we can maintain that very special quality of performance in working across the sectors, so that the academies, the schools, the universities, the museums, the companies, the individual artists [are engaged in dialogue]? That’s my question for today.

JD: I’m going to give part of the answer and ask for help from my colleagues. I’m interested in your question from the point of view of creators of the work. In the Performing Arts Library theatre and film and tape archive, it’s a very elaborate process. I’ve had fun going to the truck that sits outside the theatre, where there are perhaps twelve screens and a director controlling two or three cameras inside [the theatre], and wires and cables everywhere. That [operation focuses on] a finished [product: when it’s finished, that’s what it is.] Now, let’s move to dance, where perhaps there are two to three cameras, or maybe just one camera, depending on the money. The dance project has different interpretations, and then the choreographer comes in and works with an editor, and they decide exactly what the finished product is going to be. Because you have really good editors in the theatre, [the finished products are] very satisfying. I think the case of a choreographer coming in and being able to do that kind of product makes a great deal of sense and adds a dimension of, if you will, really owning what is on that tape. So that’s a response to part one of your question. I think the second part of your question related to dissemination. Is that correct? Did I understand that?


JD (?): [???I’m going to turn to finished product over here???].

SM: My sense is that we need both, that neither makes sense without the other. The reason I put the focus on [the] professional is precisely because I’m talking about work which is evaluated by the wider community as important, as well as work which is identified by the university as important. Those two are not necessarily good bedfellows. One of the complexities surrounding process that I didn’t really talk about, locates around the notion of difference between the enigmatic of the work of art and the technicity. This suggestion, which emerges around the mid-1980s, is that you can capture one and lose the other. I’ve been brooding on this. I made a small pact at one stage that I would not talk about the work of a living practitioner with whom I was not involved in some professional capacity. It’s quite a stricture. One of the things that emerges from being with professional practitioners in the creative process is whether or not they want to know what they’re doing when they’re doing it, whether or not they know what they’re doing in terms of what others will make of it, and whether, then, they can direct my attention to that as a vital aspect for them to record within process. But the brain is a wonderful and complex thing, and I know perfectly well that if a problem comes up for Kim Brandstrup in a choreographing process, where he’s effectively devising new material, he may well find the solution at 3.00am, and that he will come in [to rehearsal????] charged with what’s called the hyperbolic certainty that this is the solution. He then spends all of his energy working with that. Now I haven’t been in bed with Kim Brandstrup at 3.00am, nor do I know what hit him, what he saw, what he felt. Neither am I party to the ways in which he immediately, having seen this – and this is what I mean about ... creativity – it came from nowhere, it offers a solution. Or does it offer a solution? What if so-and-so doesn’t like this? How will I fit this into the various compositional groups that I’m struggling with every minute of my process? Do I want to talk about it before it’s been transformed into something concrete? Absolutely not, as far as Kim Branstrop is concerned; absolutely not, as far as Shobana Jeyasingh is concerned; absolutely not, as far as Rosemary Butcher is concerned. So there’s a reticence and a pleasure in discovery in the creative process itself, which seems to me to be the double bind for the process recorder. I know it’s happening; I can see the immediate outcomes of its happening; I’d sense the excitement, I can’t map it. Maybe I can map its outcome. But Shobana Jeyasingh is perfectly capable of coming back three days later and saying, “No I don’t want that. Stop it, we’re doing something else.” So there are huge difficulties tied up in this question of the artist’s own processing, the recording of her or his own processes, or with the person, the familiar of the artist, who is there for precisely that purpose. My sense, when it comes to creative process, is that it involves juggling multiple multidimensional grids, or schema, all the time, and investing in those a curiously heightened energy. But also the coping strategies, which are the means by which one brings the logistics of production into productive interface with intuition, create impulse and so on. So I think that I could model that from a distance, after five years of trying, but I can’t catch it in its moment. What options do I then have? My only option is to engage in the metadiscourse about that difficulty, and then hope that a practitioner will want to include my obscure musings within her account of her own work.

CB: A response from the floor?

Christopher Baugh: This segues back to Jacqueline Davies and to another question directly from what Susan Melrose was saying. When you go out to raise money, and you talk about raising money from the production community, what do you offer? What do they get for their dollars?

Woman: A knighthood.

Chris Baugh: You might offer immortality, but I assume that you have developed a more sophisticated sales pitch than that. We talk so much about process. We are in the business of education, the business of understanding, and this is fascinating. I’m reminded of my brother, who is a television costume designer and designed the costumes for a very famous science fiction series in the 1960s. Everything [from that show] has totally vanished – there is no archive of it. As an artiste, as a practitioner, he’s not worried about it. Even the tapes have disappeared – they don’t exist even under somebody’s bed. What are you offering when you go out to the community, not of educators but of artists? We can get an enormous amount from archives; we can understand an enormous amount; we can write books about it. But what does the artist, apart from immortality, get for their dollars if they hand them over to the New York Public Library?

JD: It’s a very interesting question. Let me answer it in several parts. I’m not so sure that you will think it’s terribly sophisticated, but I’ll do what I can here. First of all, as I mentioned, we [have access] to endowments created by individuals or foundations that are identifying what is important to them. That has been very helpful, because we can make choices ourselves to do what I’ve described before, to enhance a collection of Edward Albee, for example. So I don’t have to offer anything: we can make choices. Another approach would be to discuss with the producers – which we do all the time – the importance of documenting work so that it is there for posterity. For some, that is enough; for others, it’s taken me a lot more time. I can give a specific example. I in a social setting last summer, and the producer of … Oh, I’ll say it, the producer of Spamalot was sitting next to me. He said, “I don’t really need to have that documented,” and I was thrilled. I didn’t have to say a word because everybody around me, one who was a production manager and some of the other people, said: “Well, wait a minute. You clearly don’t understand the value of what happens here.” So sometimes it isn’t the direct person, it’s someone else who’s looked upon as a peer of that person who is substantiating that this [archiving process] is really important to do.

In others ways, we’ve gotten very clever. I knew that certain people were really good friends of certain producers, and it was either a birthday or it was Christmas, and they needed a present, so why didn’t they just buy the documentation of Woman in White or this or that [production]. That has been very successful. So sometimes, it’s that indirect approach; sometimes, it’s because immortality is important, and sometimes – and I don’t want to underestimate this – there is real value [in the archive] to many people involved in both dance and theatre. I can’t speak of music because, as I said, we haven’t addressed that yet, but the value of knowing that a tape exists forever is really important. It’s not that I’m going to offer a party or anything other than that it exists. And why is it important? It is important for the immortality [of a work], but it’s also important because they can go back to it. For example, when Tony Kushner did Angels in America it was documented, and then Mike Nicholls decided that he was going to do it for HBO. A whole team of people were able to sit for day after day after day [in the library] looking at costumes, sets and everything else in [the show] in order to be able to do that. Everyone in the industry knows what kind of value that had, so word of mouth also underscores the importance of such documentation, because [it has the potential to be used] to create something else in the future.

I don’t know if that answers your question in total, but I think there is no hook like you’re going to get a name on a billboard or we’re going to have a gigantic party for you if you do this. It’s a kind of internal acceptance of the fact that this is an important process. In conclusion, I would say I’m working on one person who runs a festival – British accent, I might remember– who said to me recently, “Theatre is ephemeral, and it exists in the moment, and I see no point in documenting it” I’ll get him yet!


CB: We need to draw this to a close . So Richard do you want to…?

RA: Jacqueline, you said, “apart from immortality”. That’s a pretty attractive thing to offer, you know.

Woman: Not when you’re dead!

RA: Well, as Jacqueline said, I know that I go back and look at tapes. With my company, over the last eleven years, I’ve filmed every performance. The point is for me not to have just one record but to have the process. I work on the pieces all the time; I change things. Dancers go wrong, they make weird mistakes that I find rather interesting and might keep. For me, it’s actually a [valuable] tool. Channel 4 made a series of documentaries about ten years ago now – one was about [William] Forsythe, one was about [???Krishna???], and one was about me. The [documentary makers acted] like a kind of fly on the wall during the making of a piece and shot sixty hours of studio material, which they gave to me as a present. And one day I’ll look at it! (LAUGHTER) As Jacqueline said, it’s really important to me that it’s there.



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