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Performance and ownership fit the second

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Following up on what I posted the other day, I’ve done a good deal of writing this weekend and been thinking about the problem of performance and ownership. It occurs to me that those of us who perform in multiple genres understand instinctively how much creative thinking translates from one medium to another and yet at the same time how foreign the languages of each discipline are to each other. Perhaps this is why I’m so fascinated with film making and documentary in particular.  The impulse to create is precisely the same as when, back in the days when I had functioning knees, I would use my limited vocabulary of modern dance techniques to express an idea, and why I am so currently enthralled with Improvisational Movement Theater, a.k.a. Story Theater.

I have a video up of my one publicly recorded performance in this medium which is a bit clunky from my current perspective but will give you the idea of what that looks like. (though be aware if you go to this there is an announcer – while Ed – the announcer – is a great guy, I don’t look like that.)

My point in posting this is that ownership of this piece is entirely mine, to do with as I will. This piece was improvisation at its truest. My question is, can improvisation be performance? And can we really own what we improvise, simply on the basis that it’s in our own “style”? My IMT teacher, the wonderful Nell Weatherwax, certainly has a very different style than me – her training was in theater and mime, while mine was in music, modern dance and theater (more or less in that order). But since Nell taught me this form of performing, what stake does she have in my performance pieces?

Let’s shift gears to writing and academic writing at that. Many academic disciplines, not including my own, have a convention where a scholar who researches in someone else’s lab, using their resources and expertise, gives “first authorship” to the owner of the lab because that’s who funds their research. It’s kind of like naming stadiums after the corporation who gives a lot of money to get the stadium built. It’s called stadium naming rights – okay I have to confess, I like sports, but I didn’t know this term until I looked it up – and many many teams around the world take advantage of the opportunity to use a large corporation’s money in this way as ESPN documents in this chart.

So by that same logic, doesn’t getting expertise, also a valued commodity, also bring with it the option of ownership of creative work? This goes back to what I was writing about a couple of days ago in terms of crediting performances to individuals who front a performing ensemble.

What about the rights to recorded music? Does a label who pays for the recording session own the rights to the music? Well, as an industry that’s been dealt with (more or less) and the answer seems to be, sometimes. What happens when the label is just an assertion of one of the performers, a sole proprietorship in the most vague sense of the term but the music itself has been collaboratively created? Like the Waste Land documentary, is ownership questioned because two of the collaborators never met face to face?

Now things are messier, but that’s the way of things in cyberculture. So often we “meet,” “brain storm.” “jam session,” and so on – entirely in virtual space, never really interacting in a synchronic way with our partners.Where does ownership begin and end there?

Apologies reader, all I’ve got tonight is questions.


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