In the performing arts, our work is mortal.
This is something we are acutely aware of within our practice; something that we incorporate into the very definition of our art form. Live performance. We are creating works to be experienced by an audience present to share the moment with its makers. So what happens to our art when it ceases to be ‘live’? When it becomes part of our personal and communal heritage? How is it remembered, misremembered, forgotten?
It is often said that Australian performing arts operate in deep ignorance of its history, its own heritage, which makes each new generation have to learn the same lessons anew. Peter Holloway wrote: “Each new generation of [Australian] dramatists has had to regain its craft, its Australianness, and its confidence from its own resources.” But how do you record performance? After all, it is defined by a moment of presence. Peggy Phelan said it most definitively: “performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented… Performance’s being… becomes itself through disappearance.”
Documentation of a live event is always inadequate, incomplete. But. Not documenting our history and work as a community is even more so. The danger lies in losing all record of what came before us, leaving artists to operate, in the words of Julian Meyrick, “as if theatre was a terra nullius to be populated exclusively by the latest trends and stage styles” without any awareness that we’ve been here before or that our art is a part of an on-going cultural heritage. Today we’re going to talk about some of that heritage, it’s preservation and how it influences our work today.
Episode 5: Julian Meyrick on exploring the past
Episode 4: John Kachoyan, Mark Wilson, and Marcel Dorney on making theatre without history
Episode 3: Angela Conquet on documenting dance
Episode 2: Alison Croggon on writing history
Episode 1: Robert Reid on histories