AusStage Symposium 2008

The AusStage Symposium: Transforming Research into Live Performance

School of Humanities, Flinders University, Adelaide, Thursday, 25 September 2008, 11:00am - 4:30pm

Information technology is revolutionising research into live performance. Computer networks, relational databases and digital archives are providing new platforms for collaborative e-research. How are these possibilities being realised by researchers in the performing arts?

This symposium brings together a key group of performing arts scholars whose work on the AusStage Project has transformed research into live performance in Australia. Presentations show how AusStage is operating as a platform for collaborative eResearch and explore questions regarding the impact of AusStage on performing arts research.

AusStage researchers showcase new methods for visualising information on live performance and share knowledge about current practice in collaborative e-research. Dr Lisa Warrington (University of Otago) discusses Theatre Aotearoa, the New Zealand theatre database.


Morning tea on arrival

11.00 am

Prof Chris Marlin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Flinders University
Lyn Leader-Elliot, Acting Director, Flinders Humanities Research Centre


AusStage - an overview
Prof Adrian Kiernander (University of New England)
Dr Jonathan Bollen (Flinders University)


Archiving performance ephemera: determining best practice in creating accessible and sustainable digitised performance documentation
Russell Emerson (University of Sydney)
Dr Mark Seton (Macquarie University & University of Sydney)

This paper addresses the nature of the digital information that may be accessed by performing arts researchers through the links provided by the AusStage database to digital records of performance events. In particular, issues in relation to the process of translating information into digital data, and issues regarding long-term access to and storage of the data, are discussed. It is argued that the function of digitised performance documentation is to provide the user with sufficient information to create, through a combination of memory and/or imagining, an understanding of the performance space, and to assist the user to locate the people, objects and events documented in the archival record within a spatial and temporal context. The paper also offers some reflections and 'best practice' options relating to ethical issues that emerge between artists and other researchers as a consequence of this new expectation and demand for accessible data on performance ephemera. Such practices draw upon the four guiding principles of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (NHMRC, ARC & AVCC 2007), namely, the values of respect, integrity, justice, and beneficence (i.e. the precarious balance between benefits and risks).


BlakStages: a work in progress
Dr Maryrose Casey (Monash University)

The aim of the BlakStages Project is to radically extend the accessible archival material related to contemporary Indigenous Australian theatre. This aim is to be achieved by collecting, preserving and making accessible authoritative information on Indigenous Australian playwrights, plays, performances and performance texts, and theatre companies. BlakStages is a work in progress towards creating an interactive, openly accessible digitised archive of information and resources about Indigenous Australian Theatre and Performance. Currently the work consists of an extensive chronology of about 200 Indigenous Australian theatre productions performed publicly since the 1940s, including details such as creative personnel. In addition there is an extended bibliography of text and audiovisual works about or by Indigenous performance practitioners, and a list of useful sites for further information. To provide accessible authoritative information related to Indigenous Australian theatre and performance companies. At this stage I am attempting to set up a basic website based on an extensive chronology of productions as a model. The next steps will be to consult with stakeholders and practitioners within the Indigenous performing arts organisations, set up a reference/steering committee for the archive and collection, develop a collection protocol, and, with appropriate permissions, link digitised images and audio visual material to the events within the chronology. To further extend the available material and knowledge and to make the archive interactive, thereby enabling general and scholarly users to add their knowledge and ephemera from research or experience to the material in the archive. To enrich the archive as a research resource by developing the potential for reproducing 3D images of objects and production sets in the archive.


From bibliography to blogstage
Dr Helena Grehan (Murdoch University)
Neal Harvey (University of Queensland)

This report details the steps undertaken in the last year to integrate critical literature into the existing record of data and the proposed future direction of the bibliographic team which includes the introduction of the BlogStage project. The goals for the past year in the bibliographic stream of AusStage's development have been twofold. Initially, we started out intending to begin integrating critical literature into the existing AusStage database. We undertook a logistical and critical analysis of how we might do this by exploring the range and scope of literature that might be considered relevant to extant AusStage data as well as the range of methods that users might want to access this literature through the database. The outcome of this review resulted in a work plan for us to begin integrating book, journal and print-related literature but also produced the second goal for the AusStage team in the bibliographic strand: the introduction and description of a web-based, tertiary site of AusStage specifically created to interact, archive and contribute to the growing practice of theatre-related blog writing. We've called this site BlogStage during its developmental phase. This presentation briefly discusses the logic behind the introduction of critical literature to the database along with an assessment of how far we have progressed through that process along with a discussion of the status and development of BlogStage. It concludes by discussing some of the future directions for the project.




Spotlighting theatre history: introducing, Theatre Aotearoa, the New Zealand theatre database
Dr Lisa Warrington (University of Otago)

Theatre Aotearoa is an archive of stage productions in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The project was initiated by Theatre Studies at Otago University in 2004, and is still in active progress. We are collaborating with the theatre community, other universities, libraries, archives, and also welcome contributions from members of the public. The long-term aim is to have all theatre productions staged in this country since 1843 identified and entered. The database is structured around individual productions and is designed to provide information about performances of scripted and devised work (in all genres), writers, directors, cast and crew, venues, dates, reviews, articles (including those in scholarly journals and books) and any further available associated materials. A series of keywords is also provided, and the database is designed to facilitate the interlinking of various elements. As with AusStage, the records provided are of all plays performed, regardless of country of origin. The database also contains records of New Zealand plays performed overseas, overseas touring productions in New Zealand, and some opera and dance entries, as well as entries for musical theatre, student theatre and radio drama.


Regional performance: mapping 'the North'
Assoc Prof Paul Makeham (Queensland University of Technology)

Paul Makeham's work in AusStage Phase 3 has centred on regional mapping of live performance activity. A pilot mapping project was developed to identify regional clusters of performance, as well as key regional organisations. In designing this pilot project, reference was made to two other ARC-funded projects. The first of these was Talking Theatre, an audience development research initiative for Queensland and the Northern Territory supported by an ARC Linkage Projects grant. Talking Theatre was funded between 2004 and 2006 as a Linkage between the ARC, NARPACA (the Northern Australian Regional Performing Arts Centres Association), Arts Queensland, Arts Northern Territory, and QUT. The second project was the Creative Digital Industries National Mapping Project, operating through QUT's Centre for Excellence in the Creative Industries (CCi). The NMP is designed to develop and publish a range of accurate and timely measures of the Creative Digital Industries in Australia. A primary intention of Makeham's regional work has been to compare national touring product (usually generated within a metropolitan context) with home grown local product presented in (if not by) the various regional PACs. The Phase 3 pilot project focused on five cities, comparing live performance events for the period 2003-2007 in selected regional venues in Queensland and the Northern Territory: Cairns, Darwin, Rockhampton, Toowoomba, and Townsville. Within each city, data was gathered on categories such as population, geography, climate and economy, as well as local events and festivals. Then program information was gathered for the main PAC in each city, and for selected other local venues. Data and information on the 2003-2007 events were collected primarily from the AusStage database, and augmented by other sources including PACs' annual reports and direct communication; regional City Councils' reports and direct communication; PAC websites; and other theatre venues and theatre companies.


Performance and theatre in a regional centre
Assoc Prof David Watt (University of Newcastle)
Dr Gillian Arrighi (University of Newcastle)

Our research makes clear that the importance of live performance to the social and cultural life of a region like Newcastle and the Hunter Valley is not most sensibly read by the collection of data on professional performance in dedicated theatre buildings. Since Phase 2 of the AusStage project we have collected data on a broad range of performance genres at a diverse number of traditional and non-traditional venues. Data-sets from the region's professional theatre companies, most notably the now-defunct Hunter Valley Theatre Company (fl 1977-1995), Freewheels Theatre in Education (1977-2002), and 2 til 5 Youth Theatre/Tantrum Theatre (1976-present), have been entered onto AusStage, as has information from the Workers' Cultural Action Committee of Newcastle Trades Hall Council, an organisation which entrepreneured professional touring shows into a number of non-theatre venues, particularly workplaces, and generated community-based performances of its own (1982-2000). One of the outcomes of this phase of data-gathering is that we are now in negotiations with the University of Newcastle library about housing the archive collections our research has brought to light. In addition to targeting events generated by companies funded at the State and Federal level, we have been collecting contemporary and historical data on amateur performance, and on popular entertainment, both of which have always been central to the social and cultural life of the region. Data recently entered reflects the street performance work, much of it participative, associated with Livesites, a "site activation" program designed to enliven the inner city of Newcastle. The process of recording the last four years of performance activity generated by Newcastle Livesites is leading us into an examination of the ways in which post-industrial cities are using cultural activities as a means of urban renewal. Our regional purview reveals the importance of amateur performance, from the work of New Theatre in the 1930s to the alternative theatre experiments of the 1970s on the one hand, and the performances of community represented by May Day marches and eisteddfods on the other. Our focus is leading us towards different criteria for inclusion in the database and a wider sense of what constitutes a "live event" which we hope will feed back into the AusStage project.


Joining the dots - time-mapping A Doll's House
Prof Julie Holledge (Flinders University)

As part of the Ibsen Between Cultures research group based at the University of Oslo, Holledge is working on a production history of Ibsen's most performed play, A Doll's House. The sheer volume and richness of the data on the performance history of A Doll's House is impossible to interrogate without the help of digital technology. This paper illustrates the application of time mapping to theatre historiography through the creation and interpretation of A Doll's House time map using data from the Ausstage and repertoire databases and TimeMap software developed by the Archaeology Department at Sydney University. The time map provides an the alternative methodology for investigating the global success of A Doll's House by allowing us to focus on the major political, social, economic, and technological global flows responsible for transporting this performance text from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries. No map can tell us why an artist chose to produce this play, or how an audience received it, nor can a map reveal the complexities and extraordinary richness of the adaptations, translations, and mutations of this text as it has travelled the globe. But maps may help us to reflect on the importance of distributional flows through time and across geographical space in the analysis of cultural transmission. This methodological innovation also allows us to address a research question that is highly pertinent to today's global politics: can a text ever transcend the cultural specificity of its original site of production, or is it forever marked within it? In other words, can A Doll's House, as a Western performance text, ever escape its function as a site of contestation between the West and its 'other/s'?


Who works with whom? Visualising networks of artistic collaboration
Dr Jonathan Bollen (Flinders University)
Dr Glen McGillivray (University of Western Sydney & University of Sydney)

A new approach we are taking to analysing data in AusStage addresses the question of 'who works with whom'? Each event in AusStage has a list of associated cast and crew. What we're exploring are patterns of contributors working together and how these patterns change over time. We know, anecdotally, that social networks operate in the field of performing arts. We're now able to analyse these networks by visualising data from AusStage in graphic form. This presentation demonstrates new methods for visualising networks of collaboration between artists. Network graphs depicting artists' associations with venues, companies and other artists will be presented. These visualisations open up new opportunities for investigating patterns of creativity in artist networks, including: lines of artistic contact, influence and cross-fertilization; organisational cycles of growth, consolidation and release; patterns in career pathways and professional development; and emerging clusters of collaborative creativity.



AusStage Partners meeting: The Symposium is followed by an AusStage Partners meeting at Flinders University on Friday, 26 September 2008, 10:00am - 3:00pm.

Supported by the Flinders Humanities Research Centre.