July 10, 2018In Documentation, Arts, Blog, Theater

Work backwards from the end goal

I’m a big fan of identifying what you want to do and working backwards to accomplish it.  Want to be sitting at the beach with a cocktail?  Figure out how you’re going to make it happen.  Will you be on vacation?  Will you be working?  If you’re on the beach, does it matter?  So what does figuring out how to drink cocktails on the beach have to do with documentation?  It’s all about figuring out what you want, and how to get there.

Categorization of assets

Documentation end-use typically falls into a couple of different categories:

  1. Marketing
  2. Archival & Historical
  3. Reference

To get academic about it, I’d further categorize these with internal and external designations.  Are materials being used internally by you, the artist, to come back to?  Or are you using them primarily for external audiences for things like advertising.  Thinking along those lines we can look back at our list as:

  1. Marketing (external)
  2. Archival & Historical (mixed internal/external)
  3. Reference (internal)

It’s worthwhile to have these categories in mind when making your documentation plan.  Some useful questions to ask yourself in the planning stages include:

  • Is documentation required by your funding organization?
  • Will you need to create promotional materials?
  • Is this a final piece going into production, or in workshop and you will pick it up again later?
  • Are you presenting your piece at a location, or at an event that is particularly noteworthy?

There are numerous things to think about in designing your documentation plan, but at it’s heart simply asking yourself if you’re needing internal or external assets will be a good start.

Internal vs External assets

As we noted above, the major differentiation between internal and external documentation assets will be whether you’re using them for your own references, or whether you’re generating promotional materials with them.  While you might be able to use assets generated without this in mind, the acquisition tactics might be different based on your end goal.

Internal use assets such as a reference images from a workshop or rehearsal might be adequately captured on a GoPro mounted in front of your rehearsal space.  Since you’re the primary user of that footage, it all depends on what you want to do with it.  If you just need reference material for a dance rehearsal, basic capture on your own might be just what you need.

Mixed use assets would require a slightly different approach than purely internal reference material.  Your static GoPro camera that captures everything easily, and allows you to review footage at the end of the day might not be sharp enough for archive quality, and it might be so wide that it distorts the scene too much.  Having a photographer attend a rehearsal session might be more reliable way to ensure you are getting images that can both be referential and used externally.

External use assets are typically designed in a more polished way.  Unless you are specifically creating process images for social media use (which many artists are doing now) you’ll likely want to capture images with full tech, costume, and in a complete set.  Typically this means that you’ll be bringing in a video person and / or a photographer to capture images during tech rehearsals.  Many theater companies have a specific photo-call where actors are in full costume, and the production manager quickly runs through a specific set of scenes that the artists want to capture.  Beyond photo-calls I’ve also worked with artists to stage photography outside of the theatrical space in order to develop purely marketing related images.

The planning process

I would definitely suggest you look at your documentation plan before you get too deeply into the creation process.  There is nothing worse than waiting until closing night to try and get documentation for a project.  Your crew, actors, and designers don’t want to delay strike, or stay late on closing night for photos.  Plus, if you wait until the end of your run to get professional images captured, you can use them for any promotional purposes.

If you need to develop marketing materials, you’ll want to either design and stage images or video that can be used before you ever get to the tech rehearsal point.  That mean’s you’ll need to work with a photographer or video person to come up with a concept, and shoot those pieces while you’re in rehearsal.

If you can wait until tech rehearsal starts to generate final images, or promotional pieces I would suggest you book a photographer or video person early for your tech run.  That way you they can watch the piece first, find out where the image needs are, and be sure they can capture them best based on the space and your requirements.  Let them come watch a full-length run through so they know what to expect.

If your primary goal is to capture reference material for yourself then you can be a bit more relaxed in your planning process.  However, I will say, it’s good to have a plan and stick to it.  If you are bringing a simple video camera into rehearsal every day do it every day.  Make it part of your process, that way you won’t have to think about it when you run out the door every day.  Alternatively if you are bringing in a photographer for a workshop, either let them have free reign to capture images ad hoc, or provide them a set of guidelines of what you want to achieve with the images personally.

The purpose of creating a documentation plan is that it lets you create a budget for those materials.  When I say budget, we aren’t just talking money.  Everything you commit yourself to takes time, and the more things you decide to do on your own, the thinner your time will be stretched.  If you’re directing a piece and plan on also taking photos, and creating a promotional video for it, keep in mind that the more time you work on those pieces the less time you’ll be able to dedicate to the final theatrical performance.

In addition to that, many funding organizations require documentation.  To make it easy on yourself you’ll want to add documentation into your budget at the outset, and have a clear idea of what you want to deliver to the funding organization.


Write down some goals

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably already thinking about what you want to do with your documentation and that’s great.  Grab a pad of paper and write down some goals, even if they aren’t things you think you’ll ever achieve it’s good to know where your head is at.

Next time: Performance documentation, stage 2 execution and what is a photo call.


Shout out to Brian Hashimoto who was instrumental in the creation of these ideas.