THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

5 posts categorized "Live art"

27 June 2017

Undercurrent: British Library Associate Theatre Company

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UNDERCURRENT THEATRE ANNOUNCED AS BRITISH LIBRARY’S FIRST ASSOCIATE THEATRE COMPANY

Undercurrent Theatre are an innovative and research based London theatre company, who have today been announced as the British Library’s first Associate Theatre Company. In a year-long residency, the Associateship will open up the British Library’s unparalleled collections to a diverse range of users, through innovative engagement with the Library’s public, cultural and creative audiences. Working closely with Library curators, Undercurrent Theatre plan to facilitate and generate new cross-cultural opportunities.

Laura Farnworth_credit Sophie Cornell

Laura Farnworth, photographed by Sophie Cornell

Undercurrent will research eight topics whilst in residence and host opportunities for artists to delve into this research, opening up the possibility of future partnerships. It is our aim that this research will not only lead to new productions for Undercurrent, but will also be a source of inspiration for many other artists in developing creative projects. The residency will culminate in mid 2018 with two public performance events at the British Library.

The partnership began in 2016 with the critically acclaimed production ‘Calculating Kindness’. This production was researched over three years using the personal archives of evolutionary biologists George Price and W.D. Hamilton archives which are held at the Library. The play brought to the public the little known true story of George Price, and inspired Price’s own daughters to donate further papers of their father to the British Library and travel to the UK to lay a headstone at his previously unmarked grave. The play ran at the Camden People’s Theatre in London to excellent reviews and plans for a wider tour are currently in progress.

Calculating Kindness_credit Richard Davenport117

Calculating Kindness, photographed by Richard Davenport

Roly Keating, the British Library’s Chief Executive, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Undercurrent Theatre as our first Associate Theatre Company, following our previous successful collaboration on Calculating Kindness last year. We are committed to exploring the rich potential of the Library’s collections as sites of creative inspiration and are hugely looking forward to working with Undercurrent, through this Associateship, to continue opening up the Library and its collections to new audiences and communities.”

Undercurrent Theatre Artistic Director Laura Farnworth said: “We are delighted to be starting this residency at the British Library. As a company our mission is to uncover and explore extraordinary stories. We see the British Library as the home of all stories, and can’t imagine a better place to reside and be inspired to create future work for new audiences.”

Undercurrent Theatre Executive Producer Sophie Cornell said: “This Associateship and support from Arts Council England allows us precious artistic research time, which is so often over-looked and under-funded. This will ensure we can reach out into the artistic community and test a research-residency model.”

Calculating Kindness_credit Richard Davenport186

Undercurrent is a London-based theatre company who unearth extraordinary real life stories with fearless imagination. They gather oceans of material which are interrogated, filtered and moulded into exhilarating and aesthetically bold experiences for audiences across the U.K. Specialising in research-based performance, Undercurrent’s artistic process centres around a piece of rigorous research and includes weeks of development time which brings the design team into the heart of the collaborative process. 

Follow the residency @uk_undercurrent, or by signing up to Undercurrent’s mailing list www.undercurrent-uk.com/mailing-list

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.

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

05 April 2013

Neil Bartlett's Desert Island Discs

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Neil Bartlett appeared at the Library recently performing pieces from his repertoire and discussing his varied career as writer, performer and director with Amy Lamé.  Doing her best Kirsty Young impression, Amy invited Neil to select and perform extracts from some of his favourite shows. Neil chose pieces from A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep (first performed at Battersea Arts Centre, 1987), Night After Night (a show based on the night his parents met, Royal Court, 1993), Seven Sonnets of Michaelangelo (Lyric Hammersmith, 1998) and A Picture of Dorian Gray (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 2012), as well as a recent solo piece, What Can You Do? (Theatre Royal, Brighton, 2012).

 

A clip from the event recorded at the British Library on 22 February 2013, followed by an archive video of A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep at the Drill Hall, 1989. Performers are: Neil Bartlett, Ivan, Regina Fong and Bette Bourne.

Over the course of the evening Neil reflected on what it was like to be a performance artist before he was even aware of the term, the challenges of taking over the Lyric Hammersmith, and his eclectic love of high and low art (but indifference to ‘everything in between’).

Out of the five pieces he performed, he chose ‘The Song of Solomon’ from A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep (inspired by the life of Simeon Solomon, the pre-Raphaelite painter persecuted for homosexuality) as the piece he would most like to save from the waves. It stands, Neil said, as an overwhelming reminder of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and is also the only piece to be tattooed on his body. For his luxury item he plumped for an endless supply of paper and pencils, to be put to use translating Racine’s final play, Athalie (his chosen book). This was his second choice, his preferred—though disallowed—luxury item being the Wallace Collection.

The event marked Neil Bartlett’s donation to the British Library of his video archive and working papers. The video collection, acquired with the help of the Live Art Development Agency, has now been digitised and catalogued and is available to view by appointment with the British Library Listening & Viewing Service, or at the Live Art Development Agency’s study room in Hackney Wick. Neil Bartlett’s working papers document his 27 books (novels, adaptations, translations and original work for the theatre) and 79 theatre pieces. Researchers wishing to consult these papers should contact mss@bl.uk.