performing impact

work in progress

archives, documents, artefacts and material

As new modes of documenting and archiving performance have been made available to us in the Web 2.0 era, a key discussion point for any project, production or, indeed, company, seeking to measure impact has been the creation, maintenance and utility of archives. What do we look to place or record in an archive? To what extent are we logging materials without the apparatus of scholarly interpretation so as to leave the possibilities open to future communities of use? If materials are simply lodged without interpretation, how real or measurable can any claims to evaluating impact be?

Through parallel projects and initiatives at the University of Nottingham where this particular project is located, we are seeking to pose a set of important and under-investigated questions about how we can ‘package’ archives and data in the future in ways that function for both academic and non-academic communities of practice, how we turn archives into community-based, regional and national ‘assets’, and, indeed, how we can continue to perform and reanimate archives over time. These questions are all pertinent to the work we aim to do here with our creative partners, almost all of whom have engaged creatively with the possibilities and challenges of the digital platform in some way and whose efforts connect in obvious ways with questions raised in our blogs on the role of site and place and group and individual memories in the impact of particular community arts projects.

The archive can, for example, operate as a repository of memory but it needs to remain a textured site in which competing and often contradictory forms of memory co-exist; this might encompass myths of communities, subjective or partial opinions, or the uncovering of previously repressed experiences, or even memories fashioned and produced by the project itself or by subsequent users of its record base. Academic/director Mike Pearson’s resonant case for the return to site of certain community based theatre projects as an ongoing part of the afterlife and reactivation of meaning is discussed in more detail in the blog on memory but as an idea the notion of ‘return’ also contributes to the plural notion of the archive our project advocates and supports. (1)

And disciplinary and interdisciplinary shifts in thinking and methodology may also contribute to a changing notion of the archive. How can what we are learning from the multidisciplinary practices of the spatial humanities actually inform not only what we record in an archive but the ways in which we record? How does the availability of different modes of filming, audio-recording, mapping and interpretation alter our understanding of what a ‘document’ of performance might be?

How can an archive document or maintain the kinds of corporeal and embodied engagements that we are finding are central to the ‘impact’, engagement and empowerment enabled, facilitated and encouraged by community arts projects? At a simple level, the filming of rehearsal or workshopping processes enables one means of logging the journey of physical and psychological discovery involved but documenting the prompts to those experiences – the kinds of stimuli we have discussed in other contexts such as props, objects, artefacts, significant texts (letters, newspaper articles, photographs, images etc) – is presumably equally important in terms of creating a future resource with its own potential for impact. To what extent can impact be ‘read’ simply by the act of amassing this kind of documentary material and where does the responsibility for interpreting their effect either in the moment or subsequently rest? Is the scripted performance the only or indeed the dominant measure of the process?

Theatre companies, large and small, have of late become adept at archiving their own performance histories and galleries of material and resource are therefore available to the online user to stimulate particular kinds of memories or creative responses to past productions – stills, programmes and publicity, reviews, audience feedback. But this is only one aspect of the impact of any community theatre arts project – much that is not visible in the record of the script or the performance itself remains integral to the kinds of evaluation this project seeks to mobilise and document.

There are dangers though in advocating for every minutiae of a project or process to be archived. Does the act of measuring or recording start to impede the spontaneity of the rehearsal or workshop discovery? Does awareness of the intent to archive already restrict and place parameters of sensitivity around what people feel able or willing to share?
How, then, do we also start to archive what does not get said? What cannot be filmed or recorded? The absences and haunting that ghost any form of community arts engagement?

And to what extent is the archive a closed and finished document at the end of any project? Funding policies, project outcome reports and impact evaluation are all time-stopped exercises but we have begun in our blogs to think about the significance of afterlives, reanimation and reactivation? To what extent must the archive remain an open, endlessly produced document as available to future user-makers as to those who were directly involved in a specific project?

(1) Mike Pearson, Site-Specific Performance (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010), p. 194.

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This entry was posted on August 30, 2012 by in archives, artefacts, texts and tagged , , , , , , .

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