Tuesday, 21 March 2017

How do we remember?

On Thursday last week I took part in my first NT Learning event.  I had always thought that the day would come when I could contribute to the programme and it was a really interesting to be asked to take part in an event entitled In Context: How do we remember?

Lost Without Words closed in the Dorfman Theatre this weekend and featured older actors improvising on subjects to highlight issues around roles for older actors and how they learn lines etc.  This event was run to coincide with this show featuring an academic in the field of psychology and a visual artist he was working with and me.

The session was paid for, which stressed me out somewhat.  I don’t think I’ve ever given a talk at a paid event and I wanted to make sure that what I was delivering was of use and interest to the people attending.  It was impossible to tell in advance who would be attending and so I had no idea what topics to talk about or who to pitch it at.

In line with my current research, which I’ll talk about a bit more on here in future, I wanted to touch on the importance of the archive as a place for memory and talk more broadly about how to document process and live performance to ensure that archives are an authentic and accurate representation of what happens on stage.  Matthew Reason mentioned in 2006* that many archive collection policies promise that 'they allow access to an authentic memory of past preferences' and I took this as inspiration for my talk.

On the day, however, the talks before me were very scientific and about brain damage in particular.  The audience seemed to be made up of students or people whose families were dealing with brain damage. This was really quite a different area to what I know about!  I stuck it out though (and gained confidence when a lovely lady sitting next to me told me that she had never met someone with my sort of job and that she was really looking forward to hearing what I had to say).  I presented on the NT Archive to make sure that we were all on the same page about what we already collect and then I took the conversation in a more academic direction, thinking about the different schools of thought around archiving and documenting live performance.  This led on nicely to considering how creatives use the archive and how they view it.  It is important that performing arts archivists have good relationships with creatives to ensure that their work is kept for posterity.

I touched on reminiscence projects, family history research, audience memory and how archivists make decisions about what they should keep.  This all seemed to go down well with the audience, who had lots of questions and suggestions about what we should be keeping.  An interesting and useful distinction was put forward between memory and fact.  The academic had been discussing memory whereas I was discussing how facts are held in the Archive but archives also hold memory and I was glad that I could share the NT’s oral history project with the group and explain how we are ensuring that we capture individuals’ memories as well as information and materials relating to what happens on the stages.

I had been really nervous about participating in this event as it was the first I had done and the first time I would have to sit on a panel to be quizzed by the audience.  I also really dislike presenting in front of colleagues.  Some people find colleagues, friends or partners in the audience a supportive thing but I very much do not so it was quite an achievement for me to present in front of colleagues.  I felt quite comfortable talking to the group as I knew my content and I was discussing my research, which I find really interesting. I hope that I will have the opportunity in the future to do this more often!

Reason, Matthew. ‘Archive or Memory?’ The Detritus of Live Performance. New Theatre Quarterly 19:73 (2003), p.82-89. 



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