Working with site over the last few years has dramaturgically been a gathering of story layers both from written sources and oral history; in other words, the site’s archive and repertoire. My most recent project began from Diane Taylor’s premise in her book The Archive and the Repertoire that ‘[p]erformances function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory and a sense of identity…’ (2003:381). I wanted to create a script through the collection of material from two sources, the site’s archive and the site’s repertoire. I created a character who was an amalgamation of these stories and layers of different voices, most of which were female. My character, Vera, became the feminine voice of my chosen site. Within the same performance I was also performing as myself, as the host of a coffee morning, as narrator, guide, and performer. These facets of my performance are the layers of a persona that I voice, alongside the sites story layers that Vera is voicing. Both Vera and myself could be considered palimpsests, personifying the layers of stories that have been stacked up on top of one another but where, hopefully, glimpses of the ones underneath can still be seen.
“Part of what performance and performance studies allow us to do, then, is take seriously the repertoire of embodied practices as an important system of knowing and transmitting knowledge. The repertoire, on a very practical level, expands the traditional archive used by academic departments in the humanities” (Taylor, 2003. p.26.)
One of the main arguments in The Archive and the Repertoire is that since the time when words became written down by scribes and thus set in stone we have come to see these writings as the absolute in historical fact and tradition. The archive is tangible unlike the ephemeral live-ness of performance, which has to be witnessed and, once finished is gone, only to live in the memory. Before the archive we had to rely on the repertoire of oral storytelling and the passing on of stories through generations, but for some reason the repertoire today doesn’t have the academic kudos of the archive. Taylor believes that ‘Performances function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity….’ (2). By taking us through her understandings of the term performance and performance studies, referencing philosophy and anthropology, Taylor uses this study to show how our understanding of Latin America can be taken from the repertoire as well as the archive. The ontological aspects of performance are as valid as the epistemology and etymology of the archive. In the South Americas many kinds of performance have left their mark, from ancient shepherd’s plays to re enactments of sixteenth century battles, somewhat similar to England’s medieval mystery plays and battle reenactments by historical groups today. A way of keeping history alive via embodied practice that also creates an un-hierarchical way of people accessing their history.
Reading The Archive and The Repertoire by Diane Taylor shone a light on my own practice as research. The theory behind The Archive and the Repertoire opened up a way of thinking and understanding; a mind map that I could almost lay over my own scribbled thoughts, aims and questions like a traceable key. As individual words, (archive and repertoire) I understood their meaning before reading the submitted text. In my own understanding an archive is something set down and preserved for it’s historical importance, be it texts, photographs, drawings and audio interviews; a collection that someone can engage with and interpret for themselves. My understanding of repertoire comes from my theatre background, of repertory where a theatre produces a season of plays that becomes the repertoire for a few months until another is produced, and so on. The difference between the two words for me is that the viewer interprets the static archive whereas the repertoire is embodied and comes with an interpretation by the performer. The embodied interpretation of the repertoire then gives academics (the ancient scribes) the chance to say the ephemerality of performance is too transient and can never be documented precisely. The archive may inspire the repertoire but now, in a digital age, if filmed or documented, the repertoire can return to the archive thus creating another viewpoint.