THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

8 posts categorized "Digital archives"

25 September 2014

Tim Etchells on the Forced Entertainment collection

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Guided by Artistic Director Tim Etchells, Sheffield-based theatre company Forced Entertainment celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. Since its formation in 1984 the company has continually striven to find new performance and theatre forms with which to describe contemporary urban life, devising work through long months of improvisation and discussion.

The Forced Entertainment collection at the British Library contains more than 300 videos of performances and rehearsals. These were originally on analogue formats such as VHS but have since been digitized by the Library.

In anticipation of the company's anniversary year, the Library employed performance art graduate Coral Davies on a four-month paid internship to enhance existing catalogue entries, create new ones, digitize and re-digitize material, and generally give the collection a good tidy.

More recently, Tim Etchells was kind enough to consent to a new video interview in which he gives his thoughts on the Forced Entertainment collection and on archives more generally.

  

Forced Entertainment has a number of shows coming up, both in this country and abroad. Please see the company's official website for further details.  

08 September 2014

The International Workshop Festival Collection (1988 - 2001)

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A guest post by Dr Dick McCaw, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre.
Department of Drama and Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Let me introduce you to the materials in the archive of an organization with which I had the pleasure of working between 1989 and 2001. It was called the International Workshop Festival and the name describes pretty much what it was – a festival consisting of talks, workshops and demonstrations given by internationally recognised figures in the performing arts. These workshops were designed to offer professionals opportunities to find out about new developments in the performing arts, to reconnect with their training method, or to explore new approaches to training or composition. Some of the workshop leaders were professional teachers; others were eminent directors, actors, dancers and puppeteers, who would share their insights or questions about their respective art forms.

The archive has recently been donated to the British Library. The collection should give you an idea of what used to happen in each year (in the first few years it took place in April but after 1990 it was concentrated on the month of September).

So what does it consist of?

  • Videos of workshops
  • Videos of talks
  • Audio recordings of talks
  • Photographs from 1995 to 2001
  • Programmes and publicity for each festival
  • Articles, reports and other materials (including two T-shirts)

I joined the festival in 1989, one year into its existence, though I was already very aware of it since I knew the founder and Artistic Director, Nigel Jamieson, and a close friend had taken part in one of the workshops in April 1988.

Nigel Jamieson and Dick McCaw (1994) edited

Dick McCaw and Nigel Jamieson, 1994. Photograph © Simon Richardson

Nigel left to live in Australia in 1992 and since I had been managing the festival for three years, I was invited to become its second Artistic Director. One of my first decisions was to document some of the workshops, and in 1993 I met Peter Hulton of the Arts Documentation Unit with whom I was to work from then until the time of writing (September 2014).

The festival would begin with two weeks in London, after which we would undertake projects in a number of cities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We worked in Belfast, Bristol, Coventry, Derry/Londonderry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Nottingham. The London leg would typically consist of 10 week-long workshops and the same number of weekend workshops. We therefore needed a venue with plenty of studios and up until 1999 this was provided by the London Studio Centre. The 2000 festival was in the Jerwood Space and 2001 was at the Battersea Arts Centre. With five simultaneous workshops there is no way that all of them could be documented. Occasionally we would have a second person behind the camera but we probably only recorded about 15% of the workshops in any one festival. Peter did not record all the talks, and we would only sometimes remember to bring in a tape-recorder. So this archive offers a selective snapshot of some of our past activities.

In 1997 we received funding from the Arts Council of England to buy digital cameras and authoring equipment for what were then called CD-ROMs. The multimedia format of the CD-ROM offered Peter and me the opportunity to create a different kind of documentation. In addition to the video footage we could include photos and written commentaries. Our first DVD-ROM appeared in 2001 and the seventh and last was produced in 2006. All of our CD/DVD-ROM documentations are in the British Library archive.

Dominique Dupuy 3 (Greenwich Dance Agency 1996)_edited

Dominique Dupuy, Greenwich Dance Agency, 1996. Photograph © Simon Richardson

IWF was not unique as an organiser of training opportunities: in Wales there was the Centre for Performance Research in Aberystwyth (formerly Cardiff Arts Lab), and based in Manchester there was the Physical State International. But we were the only festival and I found it important to foster its existence as a unique gathering for professionals at all stages in their careers. IWF was more than just an in-service training provider; it was also a social event. But now there is no organization dedicated to continuing professional development or training. Already IWF and these other organisations are a historical phenomenon.

The festival day was packed: before the workshops there were warm-ups, first with the singer Helen Chadwick, and after them there were wind-downs, most often taking the form of a Feldenkrais lesson with Scott Clark. After a pause for a beer we would then have an evening programme of talks. It was a 12-hour day, from 9.30 in the morning to 9.30 in the evening.

‘Archive’ is a grand-sounding word but often it consists of all the materials that have survived, quite often to be found under the bed or stuffed in a cupboard. This archive is no different. After I left IWF I lost contact with the festival management, and six years later it was no more. I have no idea of the whereabouts of the photographs taken by Simon Annand between 1988 and 1994, nor of any written documentations. Luckily, Peter Hulton had kept copies of video recordings between 1994 and 2001. I had some recordings of the talks, but this represents probably about 10% of the total programme. None of the projects after 2001 was recorded.

The photographs in this archive all date from 1995 when we were joined by the photographer Simon Richardson who would travel with us to every project. They are ‘seconds’ that he had kept in his studio. The prints might not be to the quality that Simon would display in an exhibition but they are the only surviving record that exists'.

Gojo Masanosuke (London Studio Centre, 1998) 1 edited

Gojo Nasanosuke, London Studio Centre, 1998. Photograph © Simon Richardson

Just before I took all the printed material to the British Library, I laid it out on my bedroom floor so that I could easily make an inventory of it all. While away on a weekend break there was a water escapement from the flat above and my bedroom was flooded. The paper documents were badly damaged but thanks to the Library’s conservators all were salvaged, though the colour is washed out and they probably still smell a bit. As I say, an archive is what, by chance, has survived.

Apart from the printed documents there are Word documents which contain reports by Nigel or myself on each festival. There is a certain amount of correspondence, and funding applications. Nigel’s festival reports offered a fine-grained description and analysis of the year’s activities, and I followed him in producing these each year. I have never re-read these reports (some of which were really long) but remember writing them with some pleasure. They were an account of everything I had learned in that year. Someone keen on studying the management of a festival like IWF might want to dip into these files.

If you are interested in professional training and development, if you want a snapshot of what was happening at the more experimental end of the performing arts spectrum in the 1990s, you might want to spend a few hours browsing through these materials. I hope you have an interesting journey!

NB. The collection is listed on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue under the collection number C1526.

27 June 2014

Performance Archives: SIBMAS TLA 2014 - New York City

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SIBMAS BLOG

I have recently returned from the biennial SIBMAS TLA conference, which took place in New York City, 10-13 June. SIBMAS stands for Société Internationale des Bibliothèques et des Musées des Arts du Spectacle (International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives and Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts). TLA is the Theatre Library Association, USA.

SIBMAS connects professionals from thirty five countries around the world working on institutional and independent performing arts collections of all genres. The theme for this conference was Body, Mind, Artifact: Reimagining Collections, with a special focus on dance archives.

Most dance and performance archives hold a substantial amount of video and audio recordings. The collections are ongoing and are frequently accessed by performers, companies, researchers and enthusiasts. For this reason they are often credited as living archives or artist-driven archives. Capturing and documenting the creative process, working with artists and re-purposing legacy materials are core tasks for these archives.

At the SIBMAS conference, keynote speaker Marvin Taylor, Director of the Fales Library and Special Collections, made the following bold statement: ‘Stop making the digitization of paper a priority. Most of the paper from the last forty years will be OK in ten years. Video, audio, and digital files will not’.

Preserving video is a challenge for all archives. The main components of this challenge and how these compare with those for other media formats is what I am going to briefly highlight here.

Access to video and audio recordings requires machines to play a wide variety of formats. Playback machines quickly become obsolete and disappear from the market. Once this happens, finding spare parts for existing machines becomes the only option to keep them working. To palliate the shortage of machinery and spare parts eyes and hopes are now on 3D printing technologies, but this has not yet been implemented in an archival habitat and it wouldn’t solve the problem of obsolete electronics.

Hence, access and preservation needs make it mandatory that recordings are transferred into digital formats. Digitization resources are generally not extensive enough for the ideal purposes of most archives.

Archival standards regarding the transfer of analogue video and the archiving of born-digital video are in dispute and therefore inconclusive. For example, the short history of digital video has already generated a plethora of diverse file formats, and although there are principles, there is no formal agreement on which codec ought to be used.

So far archivists have narrowed codec choices to four compressed for long-term archiving and one for uncompressed. That is out of the three hundred plus available out there. Also, every manufacturer produces its own codec and format.

Intrinsic to all born-digital video archiving procedure is the question of storage. HD formats contain five times more data than standard definition videos and those proportions multiply by four when considering files on 4K (cinema and Ultra High Definition TV standard) resolution.

I thought Marvin Taylor’s statement pointing out what we are up against with video collections deserved attention. In his words once more: ‘If we do not act now, we will lose the ‘incunable’ period of born-digital and electronic media’.

The conference also coincided with the 60th anniversary of SIBMAS and to mark such a special occasion TLA New York hosts opened the doors to some of the most renowned performance collections of the city. It was very hard to choose which institutions to visit from a list composed of Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Mark Morris Dance Group, MoMa Archives, Museum of the City of New York, New York Philharmonic Archives, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York University Fales Library, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Roundabout Theatre Archive, and the Shubert Archive.

I visited the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the MoMa Archives. Both were very impressive, but I am sure that would have been the case for all the archives mentioned above.

Curators and archivists from the NYPL Performing Arts division had prepared a special display for delegates, which included drawings, prints, a scale model of the set of the Broadway show Cabaret, photographs, 3D paper objects, an actual Tony and an Oscar awards.

We also learnt that the NYPL Performing Arts has over 24,000 dance films and tapes which are currently being digitized. Due to copyright, the majority of the collection is accessible on the premises only. Please see here for more information.

The icing on the cake for me was the Library’s jaw-dropping video tool, which allows researchers to compare several videos at the same time and create a link to share the results with others. NYPL’s Digital Curator Doug Reside explained how they have developed this and other tools in the NYPL Labs. More about the Labs here.

At the MoMa archives we talked to Milan Hughston, Chief of Library and Museum Archives, and Michelle Elligott, Museum Archivist and regular contributor to Esopus Magazine. Their Department of Media and Performance Art  houses, among others, the Fluxus collection, which came to the Museum from a private collector. The Museum Archive provides researchers access by appointment; they have an onsite database of the collections and over 30.000 electronic images from MoMa exhibitions. Most of their collection materials are yet to be digitized.

The papers from the conference will eventually be published. For more information about the conference programme, publications and useful performance arts links please visit SIBMAS website. That’s all from now, to be continued at the next SIBMAS conference: ‘Freeze! Challenge the Hierarchy: Researcher, Artist, User!’, which will take place in Copenhagen 2016.

With thanks to SIBMAS TLA  and to my colleague Andrew Pearson, our video expert here at the British Library.

22 May 2014

Something to smile about: Charles Dickens on Discovering Literature

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Photographs of Charles Dickens

Portrait photographs of Charles Dickens, 1861

You may already know that the majority of the British Library’s most treasured holdings are stored below ground in our deep basements, only to be looked at when they are beckoned above by curious readers. The Library’s new online learning resource Discovering Literature liberates some of our most precious holdings from the depths; allowing them to be seen in high definition, at anytime, anywhere, [and most importantly] whilst drinking a cup of tea!

Discovering Literature and Charles Dickens were made for each other. Dickens was a huge character and a prolific writer. It can be a dizzying experience to try and wade through all that has been written by or about him. Discovering Literature allows us to learn more about Dickens the individual while at the same time intricately weaving him into the 19th century world he inhabited.

The site features the manuscripts of some of his works, articles about him by leading Dickens scholars and also topical pieces about some of the issues that interested him, such as crime, poverty and the supernatural. All these scholarly additions are supported by high quality images of collection items, allowing access to primary source materials that bring Dickens to life. The site also features plenty of ephemeral items that help to contextualise and make real the issues that permeated his works, such as the newspaper advertisements for Warren’s Blacking Factory. 

Warren's Blacking advertisement

Advertisement for Warren's Blacking Warehouse

They are interesting to look at of themselves, but once you realise that they are advertising the boot polish manufacturers where Dickens worked as a 12 year old boy they become so much more pertinent – you begin to realise where the author’s concern for child labour and the plight of the poor comes from.  The same goes for the Diet Table from a workhouse report, laying out the daily rations to be administered to the inmates:

Workhouse report

Reports of the Sub-Committee appointed by the Committee of Management, of the Parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden, for the revision of their workhouse, etc. (1831)

Closer inspection reveals that the daily diet consisted of meagre rations with gruel for breakfast and very little in the way of nutrition. This report, and others like it from the time, emphasise that there were to be no second helpings in any circumstances.  The punishing regime of the workhouse in Oliver Twist is revealed as the norm and not a literary exaggeration. 

The beauty of being able to view these otherwise rather plain and innocuous seeming objects alongside literary works, manuscripts and personal correspondence enables us to unlock the secrets they contain and reveals them to be so much more than they first appear.

Manuscript preface to cheap edition of Oliver Twist

 

Preface to the Present Edition of Oliver Twist (1850)

As the preface to the cheap edition of Oliver Twist exposes it is so easy to make the mistake that the places and issues that Dickens writes about are largely made-up (Dickens is responding to a magistrate who has claimed that Jacobs Island is a fictional location – they were real slums in Rotherhithe). Items such as these are a stark reminder that these kind of things really happened to people.

These documents serve to show just how much Dickens was influenced by the world around him. They also confirm that many of our perceptions of 19th century Britain have been greatly influenced by what he wrote, making it even more important to separate truth from fiction.

Finally, I wanted to highlight the photographs taken of Dickens in 1861 [shown above]. A couple of them show the author with a slight smirk on his face (a rare thing for a Victorian photograph in general). They remind us that Dickens was a real person too, and not just some mythical author from the 19th century…

 


 

11 February 2014

Trevor Eaton: The Chaucer Man

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Trevor-Eaton-in-the-BritishTrevor Eaton in the British Library recording studio.

On Monday 16 December last year the British Library was pleased to welcome a distinguished visitor to its recording studio.

Trevor Eaton aka 'The Chaucer Man'  is widely known for his recordings of Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon and The Canterbury Tales in Middle English.

Over the course of a long career Trevor has introduced many thousands of school students to Chaucer, through more than 1000 live solo performances. A former university lecturer in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, Trevor is also the author of several books on language and literature, and founder of both the Journal of Literary Semantics and the International Association of Literary Semantics.

Trevor visited the British Library studio to record, at his own suggestion, the few remaining passages of The Canterbury Tales he had not already recorded for Pearl Records. The Pearl Records sequence was originally issued as 17 tape cassettes (circa late-1980s) but omitted three of the linking passages and Chaucer’s Retraction.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to sit in with studio engineer Nigel Bewley in the control room, as beyond the glass Trevor brought the texts vividly to life.

Trevor is now thought to be the only person to have recorded The Canterbury Tales in its entirety.

In the first audio recording below, you can listen to Trevor explain the project and also hear his thoughts on correct Middle English pronunciation.

Listen to Trevor Eaton 1

In this second recording, you can hear Chaucer's Retraction, performed by Trevor in the original Middle English.

Listen to Trevor Eaton 2

Recordings are copyright  © The British Library Board, 2013.

The complete new recordings, plus all of the commercially issued cassettes, are available for listening at the British Library, although you may need to make an appointment.

24 January 2014

Hanif Kureishi on why he deposited his archive at the British Library

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       On Wednesday we announced the acquisition of Hanif Kureishi’s Archive at the British Library’s Cultural Highlights preview for 2014.

  Hanif Kureishi diary2
   Hanif Kureishi Archive. © Hanif Kureishi

        Hanif kindly agreed to join us for the press launch. An early start meant an improvised breakfast in the staff canteen, but over eggs and hash browns he shared his thoughts with me on how he thinks his archive will be used in the future and why he was so keen for it to find a permanent home at the Library. Click on the link below to hear the interview:

Hanif Kureishi interview at the British Library 

        The archive includes drafts and working material relating to all of his major novels, as well as over 50 notebooks and diaries spanning four decades. The collection also includes electronic drafts of his work in the form of Word files, including some relating to his new novel, The Last Word, which will be published by Faber next month. The Last Word tells the story of the relationship between an eminent writer and his biographer. It raises some interesting questions about identity, posterity and the inter-dependence of the writer and those who attempt to write about him, both of them being re-made in the process.

        The first diary in the collection dates from 1970 when Kureishi was just 15 years old. As well as recording everyday events and reflecting on his writing projects, the diaries are deeply philosophical in places and highly introspective. They give some fascinating insights into the workings of a restless, questing mind which is always driven to know more; as he records of his friend and hero David Bowie, at one point, his is a mind that’s “interested in everything”.  

Hanif Kureishi archive 2
Entry from a diary of Hanif Kureishi’s describing a meeting with Shabbir Akhtar, 13 May 1992. After the controversy following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988, Akhtar acted as spokesperson for the Bradford Council of Mosques. © Hanif Kureishi

        Along with the drafts of Kureishi’s best known writing, such as My Beautiful Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia, are those of some lesser known ones and some surprises. The archive holds, for example, a draft of his adaptation of Brecht’s Mother Courage (written for the 1984 production at the Barbican with Judi Dench in the leading role) along with an adaptation written with his long-time collaborator, Roger Michell, of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was never realised.

        We’ll be starting work to catalogue the collection in the next few weeks and expect to be able to make it available in the Library’s Reading Room by the end of the year. Hanif Kureishi will be headlining the Library's Spring Festival at the end of March which this year focusses on the art of screenwriting. You can find more details on the Library's Events web pages at www.bl.uk/spring

20 January 2014

Recording the Future of Theatre

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In 2005 the British Library began videoing shows at Battersea Arts Centre as part of the Library’s live theatre recording programme. So far we have documented more than a hundred and fifty performances at the venue.

BAC2014a

For those of you who don’t know, Battersea Arts Centre is a monumental Grade II listed Victorian building at the top of Lavender Hill SW11, which celebrated its 120th anniversary last November.

It opened as Battersea Town Hall in 1893, became a community arts centre in 1974, and was established as an independent theatre in 1980.

According to Artistic Director David Jubb, ‘the organisation’s mission is to invent the future of theatre’. It does so by:

  • Producing and showcasing new work from scratch to final product.
  • Providing rehearsal space and accommodation to non-London based companies.
  • Inviting theatre-makers from across the UK and abroad.

The results currently manifest themselves in a diverse programme of all sorts of experimental shows and performances run simultaneously through a trinity of strands or seasons called ‘Cook-up’, ‘Tuck in’ and ‘Take out’.

The flexibility of the venue allows the staging of challenging projects often involving audience interaction with performers and other forms of participation.

For example in a 2012 show by Unfinished Business, Only Wolves and Lions, the company invited the audience to bring raw ingredients to the show, plan a menu, and cook and eat together.

Shows can take place at the Council Chamber, the Grand Hall, the Committee Room, the Assembly Room or any other chosen space in the 80-room building.

Besides the shows, BAC offers a unique architectural experience, full of atmospheric corners, often lighted with candles, with vintage armchairs, temporary installations in the common areas and a bohemian looking bar.

You can find out more about BAC’s 120th anniversary, the ongoing development of the building and all the community engagement that takes place in it here. In addition you can check their newly born digital archive online. And last, but not least, if you fancy something new, unpredictable, perhaps adventurous, and above all affordable, their new season of shows is about to start.

As I mentioned in a previous post the Library’s videos are shot with a single digital camera and are made available for viewing by appointment at the Library’s Reading Rooms. For details of the productions see the Library’s online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. Type C1179 (which is the BAC collection number) into the search box.

To finish up I leave you with some images of the shows recorded. If you would like to see other collections featured in this blog please leave a comment or contact us on Twitter.

Alice Bell by Lone Twin Theatre 20060510b

Alice Bell by Lone Twin Theatre, 2006

Once and for All...20081026

Once and For All We Are Going To Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen by Ontroerend Goed, 2008

Handbag by Geraldine Pilgrim 20091019

Handbag by Geraldine Pilgrim, 2009

Dash Dash Dash by David Gale 20100513

Dash, Dash, Dash: The Onmibus by David Gale, 2010

The Red Shoes by Kneehigh Theatre 20110331

The Red Shoes by Kneehigh Theatre, 2011

Etudes. Amsterdam by John Moran 20120901Etudes: Amsterdam by John Moran, 2012

Gym PartyGym Party by Made in China, 2013

23 July 2013

What's the longest play in the world anyway (anyone)?

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In my recent blog post on Ken Campbell I mentioned his 24-hour long production of Neil Oram's The Warp at the ICA in 1979, once decreed the world's longest play by the Guinness Book of Records.

I say 'once decreed' because the current Guinness World Records web site lists a production by the 27 O'Clock Players (of Belmar, New Jersey) of Ionesco's absurdist 'anti-play' The Bald Soprano (aka The Bald Prima Donna) as the world's longest 'continuous dramatic performance', at 23 hours 33 minutes 54 seconds. 

Maybe The Warp wasn't quite 24 hours long after all, or perhaps the word continuous is key here, with the The Warp's intervals removed from the equation in the interest of accurate durational performance measurement.

The Bald Soprano, incidentally, is actually a short one-act play but - thanks to the stage direction 'repeat of start of first scene' - it can be looped indefinitely.

In any case, it would seem that Forced Entertainment's 24-hour edition of their show Quizoola! at the Barbican, London, earlier this year, offers stiff competition in the durational stakes, running as it did from 11.59 pm 12 April to 11.59 pm 13 April, with no audience breaks.

Forced Entertainment's Tim Etchells gives a fascinating account of the thought behind the making of the company's durational pieces here.

The British Library has enjoyed a long association with Forced Entertainment - our collection includes more than 300 of the company's performance and rehearsal videos, together with many audio recordings of talks and discussions - so we were delighted when the company offered to donate to the collection Hugo Glendinning's digital video documentation of the complete 24-hour Quizoola!.

Previously accessible only as a live webcast, the Quizoola! documentation is now available to view free of charge at the Library. Please note: you will need to acquire a reader pass if you don't already have one, and book an appointment (or several appointments if you wish to view the complete thing).

For an appointment or further information, please contact the Listening and Viewing Service via +44 (0)20 7412 7418 or listening@bl.uk quoting British Library item number C802/398.    

Some screenshots from the Quizoola! video (copyright © Forced Entertainment 2013) are reproduced below.

Quizoola-1

Quizoola-2

Quizoola-3