Automobilistic Armageddon

How to Revive a Circus Performance that Wasn’t Well-Archived

Perhaps like most forms of
archiving and preservation, the question of how do you maintain the spirit of
the original is a pressing one. When it comes to something like a circus
performance, so grounded in the context of its production and display, then the
question becomes much complicated. The medium becomes the message, then.

For, what form the archiving
takes will define the very way in which it will be remembered. Or forgotten.

Considering performances are

How do you archive a circus performance
for future ?

Can it be experienced as one
experiences pieces in a museum?

Many nuances ground a performance
not just to the place but also to the time it is shown in. A variety of
elements that make each show within one production run unique: audience
expectation, the production team behind it all, the stage, weather variability
if it is an outdoor show, the taste in music of the times, the political and
social circumstances people are trying to not think about for two hours while
they watch some trapeze artists or fireworks.

Nuances ground a performance in
the time it takes place; any given showing of a production can only take place
in one location at one time. Time and space further grounds

And these temporal and
geographical contexts further grounds any given show to a number of other
factors: audience expectation, technical details of the production, who the
performers are, and what the whole of an audience brings to create a unique
audience experience. No performance is ever the same because, in the strictest
sense, any change transforms it anew. A showing of La Boheme today in the National Theatre of Panama is a very
different creature than a showing of the same opera in the Sydney Opera House
of the 1920s. Content might be the same but the staging, framing, context…
everything else brings it a feeling of difference that can only be experienced
right there and then.

A single performance showing for
a consecutive series of days might look and feel very familiar, but there are
nuances that make the Tuesday night show unique than the Wednesday afternoon
show. The devil’s in the details.

This brings interesting
challenges to the idea of archiving performance. Beyond photographs and videos,
of stories recorded and memories remembered, is it really possible to take
something that is grounded in the space and time it takes place in and archive
it for future consumption without losing something? The very idea of archiving
transforms the object by such a strict change in context, as such it loses part
of its self and gains parts of others.  Perhaps
VR will solve this conundrum, in due time. But I have my reservations; the
process would require of a foresight and technical expertise that not many will
have access to.

By exploring the answers to this
question, one can realise that there is a divide between the archiving result
and the experience of the performance: still images and video are passive
mediums while experiencing a performance isn’t as such. At least not on the
same level. And while the argument can be made for a theatre audience being
passive, I am more inclined to believe that regardless of each individual’s
state of mind and consideration for the medium, there is always some engagement
with the medium that leads to understanding its physicality – no matter how far
away or cordoned off from its audience a performance exists in a space, those
being performed at understand that, if given the desire to probably be booed at
best and arrested at worse, they could walk up to the performers and give them
a very uncomfortable hug. Past experience feeds into this very unconscious
state of mind. It is a reason it is called “life” performance, even
if most of us do not think too hard about it. This is, in effect, an
internalization of the nuances that ground a performance.