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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 – #6
Access & Dissemination
– CD 3 part 2 of 2

Michelle Harris’ Group


??Corone Nane?? (CN)
Michelle Harris (MH)
Andrew Stewart (AS)
Lois Keidan (LK)
Steve Cleary (SC)
Guy Baxter (GB)
Bex Carrington (BC)
Zoe Lukas (ZL)
Daisy Abbott (DA)
Khairoun Abji (KA)
Mira Kaushik (MK)
Sylvia Morris (SM)
Steve Jupe (SJ)
Rubbina Karruna (RK)
Chandrika Patel (CP)
Wayne McGregor (WMcG)
Kerry Brierley (CB)
Alda Terracciano (AE)
Simon Rooks (SR)

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

Transcriber: Bernice Moore

Length of part 2 of Discussion: 30mins



Man: Susan [started a database], which exists but is, so to speak, frozen at the moment. She tried to track down all film relating to theatre as an extension of the National Video Archive performance. Because she had particular interests, she began where her interests lay. Every time I’ve seen her since, she says that she’s going to start working on it again but not at the moment, so that [???what???] sits as a collection of files, not immediately accessible when people want to see it. There’s an up side in that it got as far as it did; the down side, I think, is interesting in the context of looking to the future. Firstly, one person with a particular interest drove it and, when she became involved in other things, the project became frozen. Secondly, was the whole issue about copyright, which affected all too many of the things that she’d got. [Copyright] was absolutely unclear, even when something had been recorded. Thirdly, and this is something you’ve obviously dealt with at Future Histories, is the question of whether people were willing to hand over material like that, or what sort of status it might have. Twenty or thirty years ago, people were much easier going about different forms of deposition, [???so at least you know things like permanent loans and all these sort of things, which actually ..?.. correct me, you don’t actually need anything legally, but there’s been immense pressure on all institutions about storage capacity um and that just makes it very difficult to open up???]. There’s a classic problem about getting in touch with organisations and communities which deal on the margins; quite naturally, they don’t necessarily want to hand stuff over, which only tends to happen where there’s a major conservation issue or where something is clearly just about to disintegrate. It seems to me that there are issues for the future about trying to work out some sort of framework – and I don’t know if it’s a national framework – which would [allow for the collection of] material like this. It would not simply be an amnesty for handing it over, because many people argue that there doesn’t need to be an amnesty but [???something about the rights issue attached to it???]. We obviously have this agreement with the unions about recording performance, for which we’re very grateful. Guy, you might want to say more about this, but I think the unions are usually quite accommodating when they are approached about specific things, although clearly they are there to protect the interests of their members.

Man: Yes, and they are probably more accommodating than in the United States.

Man: Absolutely. In fact Claire [???Welsby???] and I recently went to the Harry Ramsden Collection at …

Woman: Harry Ramsden, the fish and chip shop?

Man: No, at the University of Texas. In fact, they recently stopped trying to get establish a performing arts recording programme along the lines of what’s done at the New York Public Library. The unions simply said no. I think that’s the difference between post-and pre-Internet and MP3 world. I’m not saying that the museum wouldn’t be willing to try and do things or talk to the unions; on the other hand, we’re not terribly keen just to rattle the cage without very good reason and with the sort of logic which makes sense to the unions. Is that a fair assessment?

??GB??: Yes, I think the whole issue of finding a way of getting that video resource is something that we’ve been [talking] about for a long time, partly because we’re all aware that we’ve got problems in terms of the deterioration [of material] and that we need to deal with those videos under the bed. [???videos in to store but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in any better condition. We’ve talked about making a national survey of those as an audit but very much ..?.. on preservation ???] It may well be that it’s worth looking at it from an actor’s point of view as well, and even for a big organisation like ours and our wider organisation, which is the V&A. They are at the beginnings of looking at a digital asset management system and are at the beginnings of using it.

Man: How to make it work?

Man: And you know that people say they have got these videos under the bed, that they are going to give them to the museum and that they’re going to be fine. Well, that’s not exactly how it works and I don’t think people realise that. Even the big institutions are still struggling with new technologies. Even the BBC is probably struggling with them, so the big institutions have problems with these things and we don’t have a magic wand [or a perfect situation] where people can say, “Oh yes, it’s fine – just leave them here”. When people come to us and say they have got this archive (and I’m really aware that there are many small fish out there) [???that thinks ..?.. coming out of the big institutions???]. People are coming along to ask if we can put an archive on disc for them; in some ways, we’re saying that we can’t do this, we can’t do that, and we can’t do the other, because we haven’t any resources and can’t [??? and???]

Woman: I think this relates to what we touched on this morning in terms of who’s [???] and the sort of acquisitions. I think it’s very fraught and highly politicised. I know that there’s a huge degree of sensitivity among us about how [???they’re working ..?.. in that kind of way ???] There is a resistance about handing stuff over, because then it’s out of [the creator’s] hands. That might not matter now, but in terms of [???], it matters enormously. Places like [???Arbour, the African and Asian ..?.. Archive???] had to be set up because the work of African and Asian [???Region Archives??? and artists???] was not really documented [???] not the archives, has not been written about in the same way.

Man: This is what is important about what Chris Bannerman is trying to do today. That’s why so important to try and move towards a practical agenda, as the current battles in the Theatre Museum reveal. [???We’re quite a large organisation but it’s a large organisation that is fundamentally disinterested in what we do, it’s been demonstrated by the events of the last few weeks???] We’ve moved in the last twenty years from culture that basically dealt with paper, photographs and a little bit of film to a situation where it’s about a camcorder and a computer. Suddenly, we’ve got this colossal resource, which we know is a fantastic opportunity. However, there seems to be three fundamental hurdles to overcome. The first one is the whole issue about copyright. The fact of the matter, I guess, is that most of us here are involved in education as a kind of moral good; but if you’re an actor who’s unemployed most of the time, they see it as a business and I think it’s fair to say that is also where the unions set their starting point. They don’t really see that there’s some sort of category of educational archive use, which justifies their members not getting paid. The second issue is obviously one of resources, which is an inevitable thing, and the third, I think, is the issue of a market. There presently isn’t very much of a market. Some of you here are probably familiar with Heritage Theatre, which is commercial equivalent of what we do. They buy out the rights and make a number of recordings of theatre and then sell them. I know from back of envelope calculations, that they have to sell 20,000 videos of Primo Levi or whatever before they break even. I think NESTA has given them support, but essentially it’s a tiny UK business that thought of doing this because, as far as I can see, there is no market for watching theatre on video.

Woman: [???Do you mean market, well are you seeing it in marketing needs???]

Man: [???I would say market rather than need???] If you think that Richard the Third is a great play and wouldn’t it be good if people watched it, people probably would watch. The fact is, however, that the process of putting stuff on to video, which is what Heritage Theatre has done, is satisfying a micro-niche market. If you go to an HMV store, those products are probably racked alongside BBC comedy recordings. Perhaps you can buy those videos in the National Theatre shop now but you can’t buy them in the Theatre Museum shop. But in ten to fifteen years, presumably you’ll just download them; in other words, the means of accessing the market are changing.

Woman: We are small fry now. One of the things we are doing is to set up an online bookshop, which is not to make money but to try and create a market for artists, so it is another platform for artists to disseminate their work. [???The whole stuff about Arts Council funding is that it suggests that if you’re producing a DVD you need to produce you know a run of a thousand, it’s the same kind of Arts Council information knows damn well that the best selling DVD in Corner House’s Collection right now is Susan Pillar, and Susan Pillar had sold, sold one hundred and forty, you know, so there is, we’re talking about sort of in terms of markets looking at sort of like small markets in terms of technology has another way of sort of being able to sort of address those markets???]

Woman: I also think there is a difference between a market and need. There isn’t a market for documentation, but there is a need for people to be able to see that. [???experimental theatre and has had a twenty, thirty year, fifty year influence ..?.. but there’s no market for that work???]

Man: Perhaps I can look at it the other way round. At the moment, the RSC are starting their complete works of Shakespeare, so they’re doing all thirty-nine plays. Half of them have been done by the RSC and half by overseas companies. If you’re interested in Shakespeare, then it’s a fantastic thing, which I think is costing about £3 million to £4 million to stage. We’ve talked to them about trying to do some recordings for the National Video Archive performance. At most, we could afford to do two or three and that’s the maximum. So this is a colossal expenditure of let’s say £4 million pounds, which is probably going to be seen by a total of maybe 4,000,000 people. This means that in Britain alone there are 59,600,000 people who haven’t seen these productions. I’m not saying that it is the RSC’s responsibility to film them. but…

Woman: The RSC are filming them, but for their own archive purposes.

Man: Yes, their archive, but they’re not…

Woman: There will be a recording of each one [???those things at the Theatre Museum???]

Man: I’m not criticising the RSC; I’m simply saying that it seems odd that in this world of technology and with that amount of money pumped in to those performances, the stage beyond that is…

Man: Opera manages to do it. The Royal Opera House appears quite happy to say here is what we do, come and see it in the Covent Garden Piazza, where we’ve got a big screen. Or they invite the BBC in to do a telecast of a production. [???which is very, very different from the intimate, I mean ..?.. it’s obviously, it’s all about the different ..?.. Some of them were right, some of those ???]

Woman: [???as form isn’t it, but ..?.. physical form it can be shown on the screen as opposed to a kind of intimate one on one ..?.. performance ..?.. so it is a performance???]

Man: [???No but also, also the ..?.. BBC, I mean those are the sorts of things, Opera does go in to that I think ..?.. as well???]

Man: [???And also they’re doing parks up and down the country, so it’s not just piazza now but they’re doing it you know ..?.. location???]. All I’m trying to say is that, if we were sitting here thirty years ago, we’d basically be talking about paper and photographs. Fifteen years ago video film was just starting to take off. We’re now where we are – we don’t just have the film on video, but we’re at the point where dissemination … sorry?

Woman: Redundant.

Man: Yes, exactly. But the dissemination system has changed. If we came back to this in ten or fifteen years time (given the length of time it takes to get anything done in this country, then that’s probably the time scale you need to look at), we would be in a situation where it’s technically possible to download the RSC on to mobile phones or straight into people’s heads! But the barriers against doing that, it seems to me, are not about the technology; they’re about issues of copyright, of funding and of somehow creating a market. I completely accept that it’s a micro-market at the moment. But is that situation always going to be the case? Look at MTV, for example. It is a channel which survives entirely on performance; it just happens to be a very particular type of [???dancing???].

Woman: I think Chris Bannerman pointed that out this morning that access can drive demand. When I look for certain materials online, I feel slightly cheated if I can’t find them. That’s very different to how it would have been even five years ago, not to mention ten or fifteen. [???I think getting them out there is, you know we can’t expect people to go well I really want this when they don’t know that it, it’s possible and they don’t know that, that, that although some bloody commercial company has a model exactly like it, they don’t know that maybe somebody like, like you or the National er Theatre or whatever could do the same thing, and once, once it sort of filters through the, the levels of academia and in to public consciousness that that sort of thing is possible I think we will start seeing a very high demand for.???]

Woman: [???I, I think I just wanted to see between financial value and ..?.. value as being ???]

Man: [???I’m, I’m slightly disturbed that from, sorry I was ..?..???]

Woman: What, generally?

Simon Rooks (SR): I should preface this by saying that it has nothing to do with the BBC. I’m an archivist by training and am talking about this from an archivist’s perspective. An archive is there to fulfil a business requirement and if that business requirement is being reflected either as a need or a market or there is somebody driving that cultural capture, that’s fine. When you said that you were capturing the RSC performances but not in broadcast quality, that’s because the archive is fulfilling its business need. It does not have a remit or a need to transmit those performances at broadcast quality, so it doesn’t keep [them at that quality]. What I’m constantly hearing, at least from an archivist’s position, is that you’re putting on top of the archive a nebulous requirement to fulfil cultural expectations without actually pinning down who you are doing this for, why are you doing it, and why are they not supporting you in delivering this. From the archivist’s point of view you, you can’t really expect the archive and the archivist to be driving those things along because that’s not what they’re there for; it’s not what they’re being paid for; it’s not what they’re funded for, and I think there is an unreal expectation from some of the things I’m hearing.

Woman: [???I think that one of the heart of the issues would be that today’s found and also why, I mean I’m, you know I’ve got ..?.. said in fifty years time ..?.. issue of archives and documentation and it still won’t be resolved and as long as I’ve worked sort of in the arts you know it’s always kind of at the angular end, you know it’s not the Cannes Festival ???] I think it’s partly to do with the cultural sector trying to get its head round exactly what archiving is and why it’s significant. It’s the archivist’s responsibility to create the archive; in the wider cultural sector it’s a case of recognising how that information sort of can be best use, what are its values, what is its role, and so on.

SR: I don’t disagree with that. Putting my BBC hat back on, one of our Charter obligations is to make our archives as publicly available as possible. We are constantly moving forward whenever we can to make them more and more open. Those are the sort of drivers that organisations have to have placed on them in order to try and achieve greater access; otherwise, if you don’t have that as a driver, you’re never really working within your own remit. I think that is very different from someone like Guy Baxter, who is obviously very passionate about what he’s doing. He’s almost trying to invent different reasons for doing some of the things he does, because he can see that there’s a wider need for it.

??GB??: [???Well that, that’s, I’m afraid that’s being in the collecting archives business rather in the we’ve got an institution which is doing something in broadcasting???]

??SR??: Yes, yes, yes.

Man: [???These are the archives that come off it. With, with the institutions we are not tied to um, we’re not tied to the business, we’re not tied to the performing arts business ..?.. the performing arts as a, as a sort of a general mix, so it’s very difficult for us to sort of say, and we do, er you know we have traditionally done those things that are, well look we’ll take a programme, we’ll cut the makers and that’s how we’re recording ..?.. And it is in the areas of proactive documentation and ..?.. videoing that it starts to get much more, more difficult and because it’s for us because we’re, we’re ..?.. at making valued judgements, but there isn’t like a hoarding of material that is there that we select from, because we can only select from the things that people offer us, so that we’ve been entirely at the whim of other organisations in terms of when we try to collect, in terms of all the heritage, um so you know there’s no ???]

Alda Terracciano (AT): I think what you’re saying is really important. Eventually, archives reflect the normal course of activity of an organisation and so they just keep these records of what work was happening, no matter the type of organisation. In creating a record, there is no primary interest in making that record accessible; I mean, it is simply a testimony of something which has happened. This is why I don’t think the question of access needs to be distinguished from dissemination. When it comes to the performing arts, it’s not so much that video is the end product, which is piece of art we are making accessible. This is a matter of how we use this resource to inspire, how we use it to create new things. That’s why, from my point of view as an artist working with other artists, this is the core. The archive is there to, to bear testimony [and inspire].

Woman: But that is almost a curatorial practice, which [surely] is a slightly different thing from being an archivist?

Alda Terracciano (AT): [??? Yes, then after that you have, yeah then after that you have use you make of it???] And the use you make of it can be an artistic product in itself, it can inspire new artists and audiences. A video is not really end product. Perhaps it’s the video of one performance, not the video of the tour.

Woman: [???But I mean something like BBC archive you know in the sense that it, it’s sort of around you and you kind of archive what the BBC’s kind of output is and sort of, but with, with other ..?.. it’s the sense that, that things have to come to you, I mean it has that kind of??] When the Live Art Archive was set up, it really was driven by a person whose desk had lots of boxes underneath it. It was a bit like, where is this information going to go? If it’s not going to go somewhere, then it will be lost forever. And so they set up an archive based completely on what came in. If you look at the Live Art Archive from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, there was no [???],because it simply wasn’t collected in the archive. But, of course, the late eighties and nineties saw an explosion of activities amongst Black and Asian practitioners. The idea of sort of an archive which depends on people knowing about it and thinking that it’s appropriate feels quite difficult, doesn’t it?

Man: [???Well yeah I mean how, in the past um ..?.. continue to collect programmes for ..?.. we’re not going to say oh that’s a Black performer or an Asian ..?.. As far as I know no one has even made that distinction in the past. Having said that ..?.. who started our collection didn’t do the regions and she didn’t do music halls ..?.. and so she really got kind of mainstream London performances for, for a big period of ..?.. history, um but obviously we’ve filled those gaps since, so there is a sense in which we…???]

Woman: Did you have to fill those gaps?

Man: Yes, but even when you talk about being active, there’s a difference between being active [???and, and having in, in terms of if you, if you did a programme on paper???] and being active in the sense of having 400 staff at £1 million a year to go out and buy stuff about theatre. We could spend a lot of money and a lot of time collecting things. I’m not saying our collecting procedures are great, because we do pretty much sit back and wait to see what comes in. But where do you draw the line? Where do you compensate? [???We should be out collecting in certain areas because we’re lacking them, but how do we know ???]

Woman: I don’t know the first thing, I don’t know.

Man: [???It’s, it’s like a, it’s like a…

Woman: [???I mean I think ..?.. archive ..?.. an awareness amongst us ..?.. that existed, but it was there and that it’s important that artists’ work was represented in that???] and therefore artists started contributing work to the Live Art Archive and those gaps began to be filled.

Woman: [???Also we had financial reviews which is the video ..?.. digitised, but we actively go and film every year so they maintain that but that costs an awful lot of money, yeah, um and that’s like at the moment it’s kind of like ..?.. a big debate ???]

Man: The problem is that not enough people know that [the Theatre Information Group???] exists. One or two may disagree, but not enough people know that the Theatre Information Group exists; not enough people know that the British Library has more performing arts material than even the British Library knows it has.

Woman: [???I think people should know what’s there in terms of what Steve was saying sort of that directory, you know what kind of acquisitions policy and how, er you know and how are we, they should be thinking about their own practices ???]

Man: The National Collection’s policy is quite a good way forward, because at least there are people talking to each other about what our areas of responsibility are. So it’s being sorted in a more formal way rather than as a [???]. That might be a way forward in order to get an understanding of what the collections are, by saying this is what we’ve [???]

Alda Terracciano (AT): And what about duplication? Maybe we don’t need to consider duplicating [???]If we know now that the National Theatre is archiving all its performances and that the RSC is doing the same and black theatre’s work is archived by another organisation, then maybe the Theatre Museum can concentrate on doing something else. It’s probably a question of being rational in the way of collecting and in using resources. This directory might not only be a way of giving access but also of deciding who is the best repository for certain things, without duplication. An archivist told me once that an archive is very valuable if it is the only one that has got particular material, so this is about value. Do we have an action plan?


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