Documenting Your Performance: DOs and DON’Ts From Our Newest PDP Workshop


A still from the MoveOpolis! production, Toward the Delights of the Exquisite Corpse. Dancers: Catherine Cabeen, Kevin Scarpin, Kristen Joseph Irby, Blakeley White McGuire. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
High quality documentation is essential to everyone in the performing or time-based arts for use in fundraising, public relations, presentations, websites, archiving your work and more. As a choreographer, director and performer, I am intimately aware of both the importance of having good performance documentation and the challenges of creating it.
While I continue to create new theatrical performances, I’ve also become fully immersed in the creation of performance and dance filmmaking. I completed my MFA in Media Arts Production to properly learn the techniques and applications of new digital technologies.
I know this sort of intensive training is not for everyone, so I’ve been working with Creative Capital to develop the newly launched Performance Documentation Workshop. As part of Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program (PDP), this workshop is designed to share the practical and conceptual tools necessary for creating truly good performance documentation.
I just led this workshop in Tallahassee, where we partnered with the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and Citizens for Florida Arts. The participating artists were so passionate and excited to get started that they inspired me to share some tips from the workshop. While I can’t possibly condense the full workshop into one blog post, here are a few basic DOs and DON’Ts to consider.
DON’T let performance documentation be an afterthought. Do not wait! Plan and budget for this just as you begin to plan and budget for your other production elements. Include this budgetary line item early, along with all of your other collaborators’ fees and production costs.
DON’T risk poorly documenting a performance yourself. Unless you have professional level cinematography and editing skills, hire someone who does. If you don’t, all the resources and effort you’ve put into the creation of your work may be forever lost.
DO consider how your documentation will be used. Elements like voiceovers and dramatic close-ups may be appropriate for promotional materials, but not for certain grant guidelines or residency applications.
DON’T hire a professional and think your work is done. You know your work better than anyone. Communicate throughout the rehearsal process, shoot and during post-production to ensure the documentation you desire is fully realized.
DO storyboard and create a shot list. Think about what you are trying to convey through your performance documentation and visually plan for it in detail. This will help keep you organized if filming or editing yourself. And/or, when working with a pro, it will help you more clearly communicate your goals and objectives. Consider what type of shot (extreme close up, medium shot, wide shot, etc.) would best suit a particular moment. Consider the costumes, props, scenery, sound, music, personnel/cast, production needs and anything else that may be included in planning for each camera set up.
DON’T think documentation is done when the filming stops. Knowledge is power! Establish a familiarity with editing software. Even if you hire a professional editor, it will help you communicate much more productively with them. If you choose to edit yourself, a worthwhile investment is the purchase of Final Cut Pro software.
DO give constructive feedback throughout the editing process. Comment on the big picture: Are you satisfied with the look, feel, flow and pacing? Is there enough coverage?  Do the shots represent each performer’s best takes? Do the performers function in harmony with the camera? Does the overall visual sensibility clearly support your work‘s intent?
Want more information? There is more to come! We’ll be posting additional tips on creating quality performance documentation on Creative Capital’s PDP website next week.
For an example of a performance documentation video by Richard Move, check out this excerpt from Move’s work-in-progress documentary of Heidi Latsky Dance’s Creative Capital-supported project GIMP, a collaborative dance production with disabled and non-disabled dancers.


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