Every year, a wealth of new digital archives are being developed for the world wide audience to peruse. With business and other cultural organisations looking to widen access and make it easier for audiences to engage and interact with their history, the chance to experience golden shows from the performing arts sector is, not surprisingly, a clamour of today’s younger audience.
With digital archives, notable performances from the past are immediately accessible to today’s generation and globally. Shows that were previously only experienced by certain age and communities are now there for anyone around the world to see, hear, watch and interact with.
Featured by ArtHub‘s Richard Watts, here are two companies from the performing arts sector that are making the best of of their past stagings through the possibilities brought in by digital archive platform.
Dusty boxes overflowing with old photographs and papers, tucked away in cupboards or basements: every organisation that’s more than a few years old has an archive. But while such collections are of immense cultural and historic value, exploring such archives – let alone preserving them from the ravages of time and silverfish – is a significant challenge.
Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre Company is a case in point. The company will soon celebrate its 90th anniversary, and as General Manager Rhys Holden explains, it was vital that the company record its history ‘in an engaging way where people could access that history’.
While a detailed history of La Boite – a book by Christine Comans – is already available, it’s not the sort of resource likely to be studied by your average theatre-goer.
‘[Her] history is extraordinarily important as a reference for us internally, but it’s not something that others necessarily want to thumb through late at night, you know, while they’re about to go to bed. So what we wanted to do is make that history accessible, make it so that people could go back and look at those shows that they were in 20 years ago, and look at the imagery and make connections with previous actors or directors, and really start to look at the archive in a visual and an interesting way,’ said Holden.
The result of the company’s labour is a cleanly designed and easily navigable digital archive of La Boite’s history, from its founding as the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society in July 1925, through to the present day.
‘We really wanted it to be accessible to the public. There was a real sense that if it’s too difficult to navigate or there’s not enough entry points to it, then people are going to get bored and say “this isn’t for me”.’
To date, La Boite’s digital archive is restricted to photographs, short essays and extracts from appropriate documentation such as old programs, newspaper articles and annual reports. Though the archive may include video at some future point, Holden said the initial idea was to keep the archive streamlined in order to ensure its accessibility.
‘I think the real focus was on making it engaging. We didn’t want to make it just a catalogue … We might expand it to video, it’s quite simple; we just add it into the gallery and it’s not something that we’re excluding, but there’s almost 700 productions catalogued there. And there’s programs, posters, and production photography from pretty much all of those productions, so that was enough to bite off,’ he laughed.
Another company with recent experience in establishing a digital archive is Melbourne’s Circus Oz. There, the decision was made to focus exclusively on video, at least initially, explains Artistic Director Mike Finch.
‘The thing about live performance is it’s so beautifully tenuous; it’s ephemeral and intangible and you had to be there on the night. Particularly for more fringe forms of performance that are not notated – this is the thing that drove it for us at Circus Oz … Because for circus there is no notation … So for us it was like attempting to somehow at least capture what there was … for future historians of the art form, for future creatives, for young people who never got to see the early years of Circus Oz. There is now a resource which has captured what we do have, and that’s important,’ said Finch.
An essential part of building the Circus Oz living archive was ensuring that each video clip in the collection was accurately documented.
‘The stuff that we put online, we know when it was shot, we know who was in the show; it’s been correctly tagged and titled and broken up into its individual components of circus acts, which for us is the unit of action,’ said Finch.
‘For our kind of circus, these three to five minute clips become essentially short micro-works; they become short form little one act plays, really. Each one has a skill and an apparatus and a micro-narrative in there.
‘Part of the structure we really had to get our heads around was how to delineate that for circus; because effectively circus is 16 or 18 or 20 one-act plays all assembled together into a collection. So part of the core of our archive is that we have a system called “Collections” where you can actually collect things online, on the archive, and make a collection say of all the juggling acts; or you can make a collection of all the comments that mention costume; or you could collect all of the acts you think are funny.
‘So there’s a way for individual users to reorganise the information in their own way, and part of that is about acknowledging how non-linear and eclectic the circus form is. That’s just for us in our own Circus Oz archive but I’m sure it’s completely different for every performing arts company,’ he said.
Above all, new and existing audience can experience entertaining presentations from the comfort of their own homes at all hours of the day, on any day of the week!
The Realview Archive solution allows you to convert your collections into useful online digital archives that can be read on any device at anytime. Not only do we help you develop digital archive strategies, but we also ensure you retain the look and feel of your original assets, as well as comply with the original copyright.
Unlock the possibilities of your content, here’s a free archive overview to guide you!