Walking the Archive

Walking the archive in Hong Kong: Champagne Restaurant, 16 Kimberley Road, Kowloon, 1960 and 2017.

‘A book about regional touring can only be written by touring the region.’

Following the itineraries of touring artists took me to the places where they performed. Hong Kong, Manila, Melbourne, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Taipei were linked in the 1950s and 1960s by aviation routes and touring networks. In researching this book, I visited libraries, museums and archives in each city. I scanned through newspapers, advertisements and listings to find out who performed where – in nightclubs and cabarets, variety theatres and television studios across the region.

Along the way, I learnt that ‘archival research is no substitute for the experience of place.’ Walking the streets of each city, ‘I found some theatres still standing and the buildings that housed nightclubs or what now stands on their sites: shopping malls, office towers, international hotels.’ Mapping the evidence from archival collections onto an experience of urban geography brought the research to life.

This is what I call ‘walking the archive’ in performance research. In the archive, I am confronted by the ephemerality of performance and the disappearance of artists whose touring I trace. But walking the streets, I am inspired by the prospect of animating the evidence of performers in transit – ‘tracing itineraries, connecting artefacts, and imagining events.’

It became my approach: First walk the archive. Then write their stories.

Jonathan Bollen, Touring Variety in the Asia Pacific Region, 1946–1975 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)