SIBMAS Conference 2012

Report by Alan Jones

In the wake of the Olympics, London was host to an even more specialist event, the biennial SIBMAS conference, the major congress for professional performing arts collections. It was a different event to the usual SIBMAS conferences, which can be a bit of a marathon, taking up almost a week with papers, events, and activities. This one took place over a modest two days (25-26 October), with a pre-conference activity afternoon filled with visits to major collections and theatres.

With the theme of ‘Best Practice! Innovative Techniques for Performing Arts Collections, Libraries and Museums’, the congress was held in the plush surroundings of the V&A’s Sackler Centre, and what it lacked in length, it certainly made up for in quality of presentations.

A key aim of the last SIBMAS executive committee – to build stronger relations with our North American colleagues – was reflected in the opening speeches of out going SIBMAS President Winrich Meiszies of Dusseldorf’s Theatre Museum and Kenneth Schlesinger, the president of the USA-based Theater Library Association. Library issues sometimes take a back seat to archive and curatorial issues; so it was good to hear Schlesinger focus in on the issues around the future role of a performance art library in a digital information world. He asked questions as to what form such a library will take in the not-too-distant future. No full answers were offered, but it was valuable to have these issues highlighted.

The keynote speakers were superb. David Sabel from the UK’s National Theatre outlined his work in undertaking NT Live, the theatre’s attempt to broadcast selected productions around the globe, live and semi-live. It gave a feeling for the complexity involved in this brave and successful idea, which has won new audiences for British theatre across the world and opened out high-quality drama to remote communities in the British isles.

Projection designer Dick Straker gave an informative paper on projection design for major theatre productions. The use of projection opens a Pandora’s box of challenges to the performance archivist and curator, highlighting once again that the profession generally has to think differently in the digital age.

James Stevenson from the V&A presented the work of his department on 3-D scanning of museum objects. The 3-D perspective offers researchers a database which allows for a fuller ‘real’ digital experience of an artefact.

Keith Lodwick gave an insight into the work that had gone into the V&A’s ‘Hollywood Costume’ exhibition. His paper was a good introduction to the show, which was mostly fantastic. Costumes with high design content, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula costume, were the best; less successful for me were the everyday costumes, such as a pair of jeans from Brokeback Mountain.

Back in the Sackler Centre, the presented papers were of a high standard. Delphine Pinasa’s gorgeously illustrated paper on the wealth of costumes in the collection of the Centre National du Costume de Scène gave everyone in the room good reason to head out of Paris for a visit.

As someone who has been frustrated at the lack of helpfulness to be found on the emerald isle in undertaking research for an exhibition on Irish theatre, I was thrilled at Barry Houlihan’s paper on the development of the Abbey Theatre archive in Dublin. Ireland’s national theatre archive has sadly been neglected, and it was good to hear that the National University of Ireland, Galway, will be involved in the development of the collection in a modern archival context.

In her paper, Agnieszka Kowalska described a new multimedia exhibition on the theatrical life of Krakow at the city’s Historical Museum. Poland has a mighty theatrical tradition, and the story of Polish theatre deserves to be presented in a contemporary museum form.

Eva del Rey from the British Library explained her work on the UK Web Archive. It was good to hear that an institution like the BL is tackling the thorny issue of website archiving, but also impressive was how the database was designed, with an ease of access for the user.

Kate Dorney of the V&A also offered a glimpse of an exciting future with her paper about an app on 100 British plays for which she had written the content. This formidable project shows that users are going to access theatre information in different ways and it is up to us as a profession to encourage such activity, if not engage with it directly ourselves in our own collections.

Nena Couch showed how she has used Flickr in a project on 19th-century images of burlesque performers. There are often inexpensive web tools out there that the profession can use, and it was interesting to see the fruits of such a project.

A key component of SIBMAS 2012 was the return of the poster session or exhibition papers, last done in Glasgow in 2008. It worked very well, with delegates enthusiastically taking part. Exhibition papers allow more people to be involved in the conference and offer delegates the opportunity to meet people and directly discuss their projects. It acts like a working ‘coffee break’ where you can network. Presentations included Anne Blankenberg updating the Hamlet 2.0 project, Francka Slivnik on her exhibition about costume designer Alenka Bartl, Nancy Friedland on a patterning costume research design, and Takashi Hoshino updating the work of Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum in Japan.

This was the first SIBMAS conference that French/English simultaneous translation was not offered. Instead, the papers were translated and available to download prior to start of the conference. This seemed to work well, but I was not a French speaker with limited English trying to understand the preponderance of English-language papers. The papers in French were very visual and easy to follow with the translation to hand. An up-to-date touch at this congress was that the welcome desk could hand out a few iPads with the papers on them. We are not far away from the day when we will download papers onto our personal phones or tablets.

SIBMAS 2012 came about due to unforeseen circumstances. The University of Texas in Austin had to bow out of hosting the 2014 conference, and so former SIBMAS President Claire Hudson stepped in to offer an alternative: a shorter conference at the V&A Museum hosted by the Association of Performing Arts Collections. The complexity of organising a SIBMAS conference in just over a year should not be underestimated, and Hudson and her team did a fantastic job.

The mould of the SIBMAS conference has been broken, and lessons will be learned from the reduced London congress. For me the conference was too short and did not offer enough opportunity to connect with people. The social programme at such events is almost as important as the content. But London 2012 was in the end more than a stop-gap conference. It was a great concentrated event, put together with great skill and commitment. I came away with a greater understanding of the current issues and the professional challenges that face us all in working daily in our collection.

Alan Jones is Drama & Dance Librarian of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He organised the 2008 SIBMAS conference in Glasgow.

Presentations at the SIBMAS Conference

Best Practice! Innovative Techniques for Performing Arts Collections, Libraries and Museums (À la recherche de l’excellence! Approches innovantes dans les collections et bibliothèques des arts du spectacle)
25–26 October 2012, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (Optional visits, 24 October afternoon)

Keynote Speeches

  • Winrich Meiszies, SIBMAS President, Theatre Museum of the City of Düsseldorf, and Kenneth Schlesinger, president, Theater Library Association: Where Do We Go from Here? Libraries and Museums for Performing Arts
  • David Sabel, National Theatre: NT Live
  • James Stevenson, V&A Museum: 3-D Scanning of Museum Objects: The 3-D Coform Project
  • Dick Straker, projection designer: Video and Projection Media for Theatre and Performance

Papers

  • Jody Blake, McNay Art Museum: Theatricalizing the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts
  • Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute: Virtual Shakespeare Theatre Archive: the Development of a Resource for Research
  • Nena Couch, The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute: Flashing Thigh in Flickr: Images of 19th Century Burlesque Performers in a 21st century Virtual Environment
  • Kate Dorney, V&A Museum: Connecting Past and Present: Curation for Mobile Digital Devices
  • André Deridder, Université catholique de Louvain (UCL): Think, Act and Lobby Locally (…but share globally)
  • Barry Houlihan, NUI Galway Archives: The Play’s the Thing: Engaging with the Irish Theatre Archive
  • Agnieszka Kowalska, The Historical Museum of the City of Krakow: Modern Multimedia and Stage Design Techniques in a Narrative Museum: the New Theatrical Exhibition at the Historical Museum of Kraków
  • Patrick Le Boeuf, Bibliothèque Nationale de France: Towards Performing Arts Information
  • Keith Lodwick, V&A Museum: Hollywood Costume: Exhibition Preview
  • Delphine Pinasa, Centre National du Costume de Scène: Centre National du Costume de Scène
  • Eva del Rey, British Library: UK Web Archive and the Live Art Collection 2008-2012

Poster Session

  • Anne Blankenberg, Theatre Museum of the City of Düsseldorf: Hamlet 2.0: An Idea for a Virtual Joint Venture
  • Dominique Dewind, Archives et Musée de la Littérature (Centre belge de la SIBMAS): Presentation of Aspasia, a Database of the History of Performing Arts in French-speaking Belgium
  • Nancy Friedland, Columbia University: Patterning Costume Research Design
  • Takashi Hoshino, Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University: Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University
  • Hans van Keulen, Netherlands Theatre Institute: Future of the Collections of the Netherlands Theatre Institute
  • Elvira Markevičiūtė, Kaunas County Public Library: The Exhibition Marking the 90th Anniversary of Kaunas State Drama Theatre
  • Enid Negrete, La Bibliomusicineteca: Lux Teatrale
  • Francka Slivnik, Slovenian Theatre Museum: Alenka Bartl, Costume Designer
  • Amy Staniforth, Aberystwyth University: Archives Confessions: Research as Performative Act

Session Chairs

  • Kate Dorney, V&A Theatre and Performance
  • Sylvie François, Cirque du Soleil
  • Jan Van Goethem, La Monnaie – De Munt
  • Alan Jones, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • Veronique Meunier, Bibliothèque Nationale de France
  • Ramona Riedzewski, V&A Theatre and Performance