AusStage was instigated by the Australasian Drama Studies Association (ADSA) in 1999. Theatre scholars from eight Australian universities joined with the Australia Council, the Performing Arts Special Interest Group (PASIG) and industry representative, Playbox Theatre. Together they set out to address the need for research information in Australian theatre, drama and performance studies by building an index of performing arts events in Australia, and a directory of research resources on the performing arts.
The AusStage project established a national online database of theatre research, bringing together many existing resources from within the participating universities and other theatre research organisations, and catering for future data collection and collaborative research. The project set out to deliver both the hardware and the software needed by researchers to curate an extensive dataset on live performance in Australia, and to handle complex relational queries across three strands of research: Australian theatre history; the cultural and commercial analysis of the production and consumption of performances; and audience analysis.
The Australian Research Council supported the establishment of AusStage, through the Research Infrastructure and Equipment Fund. This grant was augmented by additional contributions from eight participating universities: Flinders, La Trobe, Queensland, UNSW, UWA, UNE, Newcastle and the QUT. Work began in January 2000 and was completed by the end of 2002. The outcome was a prototype data model with enough data to ensure its efficacy and provide a sound basis for future developments.
The university partners continued their collaboration with a second round of ARC funding in 2003. In early 2004, the partnership was extended with the inclusion of Curtin University. Focusing on issues of storage, retrieval and sustainability, Phase 2 substantially re-organised the database and improved the online interfaces. Data entry was the main focus of activity in phase 2 - the number of event records increased from 7,000 to 35,000.
In 2006 AusStage expanded its partnership to twenty-two organisations with the involvement of a further eleven universities: Edith Cowan, Murdoch, Ballarat, Sydney, Melbourne, Western Sydney, Monash, Wollongong, Adelaide, Macquarie and Deakin. In 2007 the consortium received a third round of funding through the ARC's Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme. Phase 3 set out to transform the AusStage database into a platform for collaborative research across three programs:
The AusStage database continued to grow. At the end of phase 3, we held records on 46,000 performance events, 77,000 contributors, 8,600 organisations, 5,600 venues and 40,000 articles, books, programs, images, videos and archival items relating to those events.
AusStage continued its program of collaborative research and development with a fourth round of ARC LIEF funding for 2010. Researchers worked with AusStage across six projects:
The Aus-e-Stage project ran from mid-2009 to mid-2011 with funding from the National eResearch Architecture Taskforce (NeAT) under the Australian Government’s Platforms for Collaboration initiative. Aus-e-Stage set out to provide researchers with new platform-independent, remotely accessible and visually interactive interfaces to the AusStage database. Three new services were designed, tested and deployed to operate alongside our conventional text-based search-and-retrieval service.
In 2010, AusStage was funded through the Australian National Data Service to increase discovery and re-use of the AusStage dataset by improving data storage; reformatting the dataset as RDF/OWL to support re-use; making policy and project documentation and code available online; and exposing the dataset to re-use through an open access web-based application-programming interface (API).
The Federating Access to AusStage project commenced in early 2010. With funding from the Australian Access Federation (AAF), the project significantly advanced researcher involvement in AusStage by; increasing personnel, expanding the dataset and providing researchers with federated access to the ‘back end’ administration and editorial areas of AusStage. Further work was done to integrate AusStage’s migration to an open source content management system (OpenCMS) with the AAF.
AusStage is a partner in the two-year virtual laboratory project by National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR). The Humanities Networked Infrastructure (HuNI) virtual laboratory will provide Australian and international arts and humanities researchers access to the combined resources of Australia’s foremost cultural datasets. The virtual laboratory was conceived by the Cultural Dataset Consortium (CDC) – curators, managers and researchers – and will facilitate improved data-sharing between researchers and greater interoperation between Australia’s most important cultural datasets. The project aims to open up new forms of humanities and arts research and enhance Australian cultural understanding across time.
AusStage was conceived at a time when artists and researchers were concerned with national imaginaries, and with the implications of multiculturalism within Australian culture. But cultural production in the performing arts has always extended beyond national borders. Although the initial impulse in creating AusStage was to record a national culture, collaborative research into the history, making and consumption of live performance is increasingly international; it cannot be contained within static constructions and national boundaries.
Global flows of artistic practice have always informed the creation of Australian culture. What have we embraced and incorporated as our own? What do we cultivate and export overseas? What have we blocked at our cultural borders? The cultural knowledge of our nation is the product of a highly complex interweaving of artistic practices from multiple cultures, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Through their collaborations in making performance, artists from diverse backgrounds create Australian culture, by selecting and blending aesthetic influences from here and elsewhere. AusStage enables researchers to interrogate this living process through which the nation’s culture is made and renewed.
In Phase 5 we set about internationalising AusStage, by opening the flow of information between our Australian data set on live performance and equivalent holdings in international collections. Our aims were to:
These initiatives helped researchers understand how Australian artists impact on the world stage. Reaching beyond national borders we opened up new opportunities for pure and applied research with international partners. Our initiative to internationalise AusStage aligned with the focus in Digital Humanities on solving the problems that academic, industry and government researchers face when attempting to conduct global investigations across databases and digital repositories that are artificially isolated by national boundaries and poor interoperability.
AusStage Phase 6 aims to build an innovative visual interface with a venue focus, enhancing its infrastructure with new visualisation and curatorial technologies. Mapping AusStage data onto the venue landscape will enable: digital access to significant numbers of buildings coded into the national geography; analysis of synergies between artists, sites of performance, and audience development; investigation of national touring patterns from the nineteenth century to the present day; and assessment of the impact of transnational performance events. Only visual analyses are capable of investigating mutually implicated relationships between live performance, venues, and communities, dissolving simple binaries and identifying causal factors. Individual projects are clustered under four headings: 1. city venues and cultural legacy; 2. audiences and spatiality; 3. lost venues and sites of performance; 4. digital interfaces and data integration.