Toni Sant

The Future of Documenting Performance: Plenty of Performance Documents But Not Enough Performance Documentation


Among performance practitioners and theorists, the term documentation is very often taken as a synonym for various objects widely classified as documents or the act of documenting in a broad sense. However, more precisely, documentation should really refer to the process of organizing documents and processes of documenting in systematic ways to ensure long-term access to physical (analog and/or digital) traces of mostly ephemeral activities.

In the second decade of the 21st century it is becoming more and more evident to digital curation specialists that the various disciplines associated directly with performance are ones where the creation of documents or the random processes of documenting are mistakenly considered as sound methods of documentation. Furthermore, performance practitioners are among the least trained arts professionals when it comes to the digital curation of documents created from processes of documenting performance they often spend considerable resources to procure.

What happens to the countless photos and/or videos of rehearsals and performances captured around the world on a regular basis? What about associated artefacts that are very often considered to be completely ancillary to the performance such as production notes, publicity materials, reviews, or audience-generated online content on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other so-called social media networks? How and where do performance researchers access such documents now and, more importantly, how and where will they find them in the future?

Starting from a critical analysis of the study conducted by Laura Molloy through the Digital Curation Centre in Glasgow (International Journal of Performance Arts & Digital Media 2010 Vol 1) this presentation attempts to evaluate how Susan Briet’s framework for documentation (1951) can be brought to the field of Performance Archaeology in the 21st Century. This can and should serve to raise awareness among practitioners and researchers on the need to rethink the processes of documenting performance in the 21st century as subpar unless conducted within contemporary LIS and/or digital curation-driven processes of performance documentation.

Toni Sant: Dr Toni Sant is the artistic director of Spazju Kreattiv, Malta’s national centre for creativity at St James Cavalier in Valletta. He has lectured extensively on performance and digital technlogy in New York, Malta and across the United Kingdom, most recently as Reader in Digital Curation at the University of Hull. He is also the author of the books Franklin Furnace & the Spirit of the Avant Garde: A history of the future (2011) and Remembering Rediffusion in Malta: A history without future (2016). His next book, Documenting Performance: the context and processes of digital curation and archiving, will be published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama in 2017. More at