- Documentation, Disappearance, and the Representation of Live Performance
In Documentation, Disappearance, and the Representation of Live Performance, Matthew Reason inserts himself into the decades-long (and still ongoing) debate related to the (im)permanence of live performance. Published before the anticipated tenth-anniversary edition of Philip Auslander's Liveness and shortly after a series of journal special issues dedicated to documentary theatre and choreographic notation, Reason's book arrives at a moment of renewed and heightened interest in performance documentation. Is performance, by definition, an activity that disappears or vanishes in the very act of its unfolding? Although the timing of Documentation's release could not have been better, it is Reason's meticulous retracing of the evolution of the performance-as-ephemera debate, coupled with his fresh insights—especially his reading of "performance photography"—that makes his text not only worth reading, but also worthy of adoption within classrooms as a reader-friendly introduction to the anxieties associated with documentation in contemporary performance scholarship.
Reason divides Documentation into four parts. The first exists as a literature review on the performanceas disappearance/vanishing/ephemera phenomenon. The second part looks at video recordings of live performances and engages with the formal differences of the two media. The third blurs the two together by examining production photos that were created before the live performance event began rehearsals and, yet, remain as archival documents of the expired event. In a final chapter, Reason offers suggestions on how to write performance reviews that can gesture toward the experience of witnessing a live enactment and relay a sense of the transience of live performance. He suggests that critics should resist the temptation to give an overview of the entire performance and, instead, focus on particular moments that they find meaningful. It is through these moments that the spirit—and the sense of transience—of the performance can be accessed by the reader.
Although Reason's careful parsing and methodical representation of past scholarship on the ephemerality of live performance provides an intelligent overview of the disappearance debates and promises to be the part of the book most frequently read and assigned by performance scholars, this first section is the part in which the author's voice is the most muted. Reason chronicles how intimations that the [End Page 316] value of live performance may rest in its disappearing quality were reductively hardened into the equation "performance equals disappearance" without revealing his perspective of the appropriateness of either description.
Through his analysis of newspaper reviews, publicity photographs, and video recordings in the second section of the book, Reason demonstrates that "live performance" does not entirely vanish. There are traces of its occurrence and, more importantly, these traces introduce the performance to considerably larger and differently situated audiences than the original event. Despite the presence of these recordings, Reason maintains that the experience of engaging with such documents differs from the experience of witnessing the original, live performance. What, according to Reason, constitutes live performance? After rehearsing a series of defining concepts invoked by previous theorists—from disappearance to vanishing to ephemerality to transience—he asserts that live performance occurs "here and now," and before assembled audiences who share the same here and now. It is not clear, however, whether here and now disappears, vanishes, or fades away. Reason's emphasis on a singular moment—the intersection of temporality and spatiality—within his definition of live performance suggests a kinship with these earlier descriptors, but does not appear to improve upon them.
The most interesting and significant contribution that Reason makes to the study of theatre and performance within his book is his investigation into "performance photography." Excusing himself from the performance-as-ephemera debate, the author looks at images created in advance of a production (or rehearsals), usually for publicity purposes. For Reason, the appeal of such images anchors itself in the fact that they are created to represent an event that has yet to occur. The first items associated with a performance to be presented to the public, these...