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Documenting Performance Working Group :Call for Contributors – Intransigence & Sensibility: the Work of Documentation

To document performance or to engage with its associated objects is to work with particular economies of sensibility. An economy is not only a system of production and consumption but also a means of administrating and organising the material resources of a community or discipline. Performance documents require labour in order to accomplish the various types of work we want them to do under these economies: verifying that an event has taken place, whilst critiquing structures of power and authority that find their foundations in monopolising truth; developing an aesthetic whilst remaining subordinate to an original (or else defying the originary as such and circulating, as with Hito Steyerl’s ‘poor image’ (2009), with renegade dispersal); navigating shifts in theoretical and artistic debates whilst lending stability to historical narratives. They might also exhibit intransigence and resist our analytical frames.

Following a number of years of working with a particular emphasis on digital curation and methodologies and approaches for archiving and collecting remainders of performance events, the new convenors of the Working Group are keen during this year’s conference to assess the state of play of current theoretical and practical engagements with ideas of documenting performance. The aim of the gathering is to assess as a group how we might most productively take the conversation forward from polemic affinities either with ephemerality or with the document as site of performance. Of particular concern are questions concerning how we do the work of reading and writing about theatre and performance. The ‘work’ of documentation refers, as well, to the status of the document as ‘a work’, and its role as an object of and for study. At stake, then, is how sensibilities of documentation shape and determine our field.

The use of ‘sensibility’ here will call to mind for many Jacques Rancière’s ‘distribution of the sensible’, or the aesthetic regimes which over time administrate what it is possible to perceive and feel (2004: 12). Documentation and the conditions of its sensibility rely on formations of acute sensitivity and perceptiveness, on faculties of feeling closely connected to emotional consciousness, and on capacities to respond with discernment to creative and cultural stimuli. But what is being distributed? In The Illuminated Theatre, performance scholar Joe Kelleher suggests of his case study examples that ‘what has got “stuck” in the sensibility for them – these shows, dances, plays, actions, films, pictures and performances: including theatrical but also literary, critical and philosophical performances – is “theatre” itself’ (2015: 5). It is within the sensibilities of our perceptions and memories that we might encounter performance.

Of interest too are sensibilities founded in taste and instincts of liking or aversion to the task of documenting performance on the part of scholars and artists. How can we move beyond, or nuance these proclivities which so often attend conversations around performance, documentation and their associated institutional contexts and agendas?

The convenors welcome expressions of interest related to ideas about styles and sensibilities of documentation, and the affect and feeling that attends or motivates the work of theatre and performance scholarship and its documents. Papers, provocations or performances might engage with or develop from the following questions:

  • What work do we want documents of performance to do, how are we making them do it and where might we encounter documentary intransigence?
  • What specifically of performance(s) are we trying to document?
  • How does documentation determine ways of working, both as scholars and artists? How does the preservation and circulation of documents within, between and beyond institutions affect these ways of working?
  • How do particular sensibilities inflect documents of performance?
  • What issues of training might we explore in relation to documentation? Should we be training documenters in aesthetic as well as practical techniques, as we train performers, designers, writers and directors? To what degree should artists be engaged with the production and preservation of documents?

The Working Group is keen to include and work with and through a range of presentation modes which might include but is not limited to the following formats:

  • papers, presentations and discussions of work-in-progress (20 minutes)
  • provocations or other shorter modes of response (10 minutes)
  • instances of performance practice or short workshops/demonstrations (1 hour)

The Documenting Performance Working Group was founded in 2011 as a platform for investigation which acknowledges and contributes to the burst of scholarly and artistic activity in this arena. Interim events and a dedicated issue of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media have complemented the annual WG meeting, which have also been firmly interdisciplinary. Please send expressions of interest to current convenors, Dr Georgina Guy and Dr Johanna Linsley by 18 April, 2016.


Dr Georgina Guy

Lecturer in Theatre & Performance, Royal Holloway, University of London


Dr Johanna Linsley

Research Associate, Challenging Archives, University of Bristol

Research Facilitator, Drama/Theatre/Performance, University of Roehampton


Only one proposal may be submitted for the TaPRA 2016 Conference at the University of Bristol. It is not permitted to submit multiple proposals or submit the same proposal to several Calls for Papers. All presenters must be TaPRA members, i.e. registered for the conference; this includes presentations given by Skype or other media broadcast even where the presenter may not physically attend the conference venue. If your paper has been accepted, yet you have not registered for the Conference by the final registration deadline of 8th August 2016, we will deem you no longer intend to participate and present at TaPRA 2016.

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