Saturday, 11 November 2017

DocPerform2 Conference

DocPerform is a research project based at City, University of London, focussed on the concept of documenting performance in all its guises. The audience was very mixed and quite different to the theatre archive audience I am used to - there were more academics, students and practitioners than I was expecting, which provided rich networking and discussion opportunities.

I presented a paper on the work of the NT Archive, the challenges we face with future technologies, gaps in the collections and how we are collaborating with colleagues in New Work to ensure that the Archive is as involved in theatre-making as we can be. My own research focuses on the documentation of performance: what, how and why. This was an excellent forum in which to air my initial thoughts from my research and they were very well received. A lot of what we are working on at the NT touched on the main themes of the conference, which were to look at documentation of new technologies and of intangible things like emotions and relationships.

One of the phrases that recurred throughout the two days was 'embedded archivist', which is the idea of having an archivist or documentation enthusiast in the rehearsal room. They would encourage the documentation of that production. This is easier than it sounds and we had a discussion around the real and/or perceived limiting factors of documentation on the creative process. There is the constant issue of deciding what should be documented without affecting the creative process itself. And would an embedded archivist be a better fit than a practitioner who knows the value of documentation? Should we not be focussing our time and effort into improving the relationship between archivists, academics and practitioners in order to ensure the safeguarding of performing arts materials for the future?

Several questions kept coming up throughout the conference and are really useful for considering as an archivist:
  • what are we documenting?
  • who are we documenting it for?
  • from whose perspective are we documenting?
Sometimes we can get too caught up in capturing what we have always captured that we forget the importance of knowing who it is for and how it will be used in the future.

The second day of the conference was more focussed on where documentation is going in the future. We heard a lot about filming of performances and it became clear that we need to become more digitally literate in terms of digital content. This is particularly important as we become swamped with data - there is no longer the issue of not having enough content left over form a production but of too much. The necessity will be around curation of content rather than just collecting it.

The conference definitely threw up some thought-provoking questions and I could see a promising start to collaborative thinking across the sectors. On the way home that night I saw the below mosaic...I definitely love what I do, particularly when I can see the enthusiasm and dedication of those in my sector and beyond to document the performing arts.

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