THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

9 posts categorized "Video recordings"

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 Â© 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.

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

04 July 2013

Ken Campbell is alive and you are dead

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On 31 August 2013 it will be five years since the death of writer, performer, director and general one-off theatre legend Ken Campbell.

In the Guardian's obituary, theatre critic Michael Coveney described Campbell as 'a perennial reminder of the rough-house origins of the best of British theatre, from Shakespeare, music hall and Joan Littlewood to the fringe before it became fashionable, tame and subsidized.'

The multifarious products of Ken Campbell's profoundly anarchistic theatrical imagination included his 24-hour long production of Neil Oram's The Warp at the ICA in 1979 - decreed by no less an authority than the Guinness Book of Records to be the world's longest play - and his production of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - performed inside a hovercraft - also at the ICA, later that same year. In the later part of his career he was perhaps best-known for his solo shows of fantastical monologues detailing all manner of odd experiences and arcane knowledge.

In 1977, the opening attraction of the National Theatre's new Cottesloe space was the full-cast stage adaptation by the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool - co-founded by Campbell with Chris Langham the previous year - of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy. The British Library made an audio recording of the full 9-hour show and continued, throughout the 1980s and 90s to record Campbell's (usually solo) shows at the National. These included Furtive Nudist, Pigspurt, Jamais Vu, Violin Time, The Pidgin Macbeth and The History of Comedy: Part One: Ventriloquism.

Campbell was happy to have his shows recorded for posterity, his only stipulation being that he was not informed of the date the recording would be happening.  

Ken--Campbell-material

As well as unique live recordings, the Library has tried to acquire any commercially circulated recordings of Campbell: from the CD 'Wol Wantok' (King Mob, 1999), in which Campbell advanced the case for Pidgin English as a new world language, to the DVD edition of G. F. Newman's TV series Law and Order, in which Campbell had a rare straight acting role, as a crooked lawyer. He later described his performance in Law and Order as an example of 'tie-acting' (the actor tucks in his chin and mumbles into his tie).

The Library does not have any unique audio documentation of The Warp but it does have a copy of the video version (on six videotapes) purchased from writer Neil Oram a few years back. This is still available to purchase from Neil here, now in DVD format.

If you would like to hear (or view) any of the material mentioned in this blog post you can do so free of charge at the British Library. You will need a British Library Reader's Card however and you may need to book an appointment.   

 Listen to Ken Campbell introducing his Pidgin Macbeth in 1998 (excerpt) 

24 June 2013

The 'Sacred' seasons of live art at the Chelsea Theatre

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The 'Sacred' seasons of live art and experimental contemporary performance were started at Chelsea Theatre, London, seven years ago by Francis Alexander, the Theatre’s Artistic Director.

Located in front of the World’s End Estate on the King’s Road, the Chelsea Theatre presents itself as the only London theatre dedicated to the production and presentation of live art performance. Each year Sacred brings together performers and practitioners from all over the world for a programme which also supports early-career artists.

Action Hero_Front Man 2011
Frontman Action Hero, 2011

Over the years themes and formats have varied, from one-to-one encounters, late-night cabaret, dance, promenade performances and installations. The 2008 season even included shows taking place inside an old Routemaster bus parked in front of the theatre.

Sacred also provides a place for discussion and engagement in the form of keynote addresses, artist-led workshops, symposiums, talks, lecture demonstrations, post-show talks and interactive critical debates including researchers and members of the public alike, often with an impromptu element.

These events have touched so far on the subjects of socially engaged performance, participation, performing the real, the make-believe world of performance, and most recently, in the current season, on hopes, dreams and predictions for future practice through the Wishful Wednesdays series of artists’ talks.

Franko B and Ron Athley 2009
Ron Athey and Franko B in discussion, 2009

Audience involvement is not excluded from the shows and it can take many forms too. For example as a part of a performance in 2008 the duo Leibniz invited spectators to donate a drop of blood to be used as ink in the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into a thick, leather-bound book. And in 2010, performer Sara Juli put $5000 into the hands of the audience for her show The Money Conversation.

Lois Weaver_What Tammy Needs to Know 2008
What Tammy Needs to Know
Lois Weaver, 2008

Since the beginning of the first Sacred, in autumn 2006, the British Library has been documenting all the shows and events. Seven seasons later this has resulted in a unique collection of over a hundred and forty video recordings. See BL reference C1214 in the Library’s online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

At the British Library we document performances from the audience point-of-view and we never see the shows in advance. Videoing under these conditions can sometimes be challenging. The results are made available for viewing, unedited, in the Reading Rooms.

Dickie Beau_Blackouts 2013
BLACKOUTS: Twilight of the Idols Dickie Beau, 2013

The collection is a comprehensive guide to the contemporary live art scene and its players and includes shows by Franko B, Goat Island, Ron Athey, Dominic Johnson, Kazuko Hokhi, Stacy Makishi, David Hoyle, Karen Christopher, Julia Bardsley, Helena Hunter, Sheila Ghelani, Action Hero, Dickie Beau, Peggy Shaw, Natasha Davis and Robin Deacon among many others.

The Chelsea Theatre’s partnerships with international venues such as brut from Viena in 2009 and PS122 from New York in 2010 brought to London the work of Jan Machacek (you delay), Richard Maxwell (ADS) and Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company (Pullman, Wa), to give just three examples.

The current season is about to end. You are still in time for the last two shows: The Red Album by Rubix Collective on 27 June 2013, and  Anarchitecture in the UK by Richard DeDomenici on 6 July 2013.

 

 

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.