Performing Data

Collaborative research on data models and digital approaches to theatre research, undertaken in conjunction with AusStage and IbsenStage.

Artistic networks and the flow of performance: approaches to mapping from theatre studies – Jonathan Bollen, UNSW Sydney – workshop at Mapping Culture and History, NUSpace, University of Newcastle, 17-18 November 2022.

Live performances at theatre venues are dynamic events, located in space, energised in time, attracting bodies and objects into temporary ensembles, that intensify for a period, and then release with dispersal. This workshop explores cartographic approaches to visualising the dynamism of performance, accumulating over time, distributed across space. Examples are drawn from recent research into mapping the history of theatre production in Sydney, the aviation routes of Asia-Pacific touring, and the artistic networks that flow through arts festivals, dance companies, and theatre venues. Geocoded event data and collaboration networks, drawn from AusStage, the national live performance database, and other sources, provide a hands-on opportunity for workshop participants to experiment with cartographic approaches to visualising time, space and movement and explore their broader application across artistic practice, social history, and cultural production.

Slides [pdf]

Engage and respond

Interactive examples to explore in relation to your interests and projects.

Sample data – downloads

  • Hong Kong nightclubs [csv] – venues, artists+companies, dates – 1956–1965
  • Ibsen’s A Doll’s House [csv] – artist-to-artist transmission through events – Norway, 1879-2016
  • Glastonbury dataset [csv] – artists, organisations, events, dates – 1970–2022
  • Performing Sydney [csv] – venues and event counts – updated, 1920–2022

Other data sources to explore – sharing data online

Platforms and software

Bollen, J. ‘Visualising the Story of Theatre in Sydney: Venues, Repertoire and Change, 1920–2020’, Australasian Drama Studies, 78 (2021), 72–109.

Published in conjunction with the Performing Sydney exhibition at UNSW Library.

Theatre is sometimes imagined as an art form at risk – from talking pictures in the 1920s and television in the 1950s to the Covid-19 pandemic in the 2020s. But the Wolanski Collection and data from AusStage tell a different story. Theatre companies and venue buildings come and go. Yet, over the last hundred years, theatre in Sydney is a story of growth: more venues, with more seats, presenting more performances in a wider range of genres to more spectators. This essay uses maps of venues in Sydney and visualisations of repertoire patterns to reveal insights into the city’s history of theatre production and cultural change between 1920 and 2020. It demonstrates an approach to research that integrates digital records of theatre production with theatre programs from an archival collection. Maps are arranged in a time-series to reveal what venues to audiences in Sydney. Genre terms drawn from theatre programs trace the evolution of performance, while information on the national origin of artists frame the efforts to produce Australian works. In visualising data on theatre production, the essay reveals longitudinal patterns in repertoire that challenge assumptions about theatre in Sydney and extend the story in new directions.

Bollen, J. ‘Data models for theatre research: people, places and events’, Theatre Journal, 68/4 (2016), 615–632.

How are theatre scholars sharing information about people, places, and performance? This essay considers the current prospects for collaborative research on theatre production within the context of recent developments in the digital humanities. It identifies convergence in the way that twelve projects around the world are collecting and organizing information about performance. The essay derives core descriptions for shared concepts from the data models in use, placing emphasis on practical solutions, while recognizing variations in implementation. In the process it distinguishes four levels of determination for concepts of performance, event, production, and work. Recognizing what has been achieved, the essay contributes to the prospects of sharing data among projects. It concludes by illustrating how visualizing information on performance opens new horizons of significance for theatre research at scales ranging from local activity to global networks.

Related articles…

  • Bollen, J. and Couch, M. ‘From The Silver Lining to The Roaring Days!: Amateur theatre and social class in Broken Hill, 1940s-1960s’, Australasian Drama Studies, 64 (2014), 257–276. 
  • Couch, M. and Bollen, J. ‘Sex, gender and the industrial: Plays performed by Broken Hill Repertory Society, 1945–1969’, Australasian Drama Studies, 64 (2014): 277–96. 

Holledge, J, Bollen, J., Hellend, F. & Tompkins, J. A Global Doll’s House: Ibsen and Distant Visions (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

This book addresses a deceptively simple question: what accounts for the global success of A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen’s most popular play? Using maps, networks, and images to explore the world history of the play’s production, this question is considered from two angles: cultural transmission and adaptation. Analysing the play’s transmission reveals the social, economic, and political forces that have secured its place in the canon of world drama; a comparative study of the play’s 135-year production history across five continents offers new insights into theatrical adaptation. Key areas of research include the global tours of nineteenth-century actress-managers, Norway’s soft diplomacy in promoting gender equality, representations of the female performing body, and the sexual vectors of social change in theatre.

  • Introduction
  • Mapping the Early Noras
  • ‘Peddling’ Et dukkehjem: The Role of the State
  • Adaptation at a Distance
  • Ibsen’s Challenge: The Tarantella Rehearsal

Bollen, J. & Holledge, J. ‘Hidden dramas: cartographic revelations in the world of theatre studies’, Cartographic Journal, 48/4 (2011), 226–36. 

Et dukkehjem (A Doll’s House) by Henrik Ibsen is one of the most performed modern dramas in the world. Using cartographic and network visualisations, this article divulges a hitherto obscured Nordic history of this play: first, as a product of the cultural and aesthetic blending in the late nineteenth century; then as an icon of nation building in the postwar years; and finally, as a global icon for the Norwegian nation state. While charting this affair between Norway and one of its national cultural treasures, this article also exposes the transmission of an aesthetic heritage. Network visualisations of the Nordic productions of Et dukkehjem reveal an unbroken connection between productions of the play from 1879 to 1991. Oral transmission of production knowledge concerning canonical texts is commonplace in most national theatres, but this is the first study to document the phenomenon within the interpretative history of a single play. By applying time-geography to the production history of a ubiquitous dramatic text, ‘Hidden Dramas’ demonstrates the value of cartographic investigations to the field of theatre historiography.


Bollen, J. ‘Performing Sydney, 1920–2020: Telling the story of theatre in Sydney – venues, repertoire and change’, Performing Arts Heritage Network, Museums Australia, 30 November 2020. 

Bollen, J. ‘Data models and visualizations: people, places and events’ (invited presentation), The Humanities and the Digital: Archiving and Pedagogy, University of the Philippines Diliman, Manila, Philippines, 16 November 2017.

Bollen, J. ‘Applying Digital Humanities Techniques to Research Training in the Performing Arts’ (plenary address), Digitization of the Humanities and New Ways of Teaching, Research Institute for Digital Culture and Humanities, Open University Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1-3 June 2017.

Bollen, J. ‘People, places and events – researching networks of artistic collaboration’, Digital Humanities Pedagogy Worshop, UNSW, Sydney, 29 April 2015.

Bollen, J. ‘AusStage and the Research Process’, with Jenny Fewster, Australasian Drama Studies Association conference, University of Sydney, 23 June 2015.

Bollen, J. ‘Digital methods and ethics in researching transnational cultures’, research roundtable, Researching Digital Cultures: Methods & Ethics Symposium, UNSW, 5 November 2015.

Bollen, J. Invited participant at Cultural Transmission: Where Quantitative Analysis Meets Qualitative Interpretation, Centre for Ibsen Studies, University of Oslo, Norway, 20-21 March 2014.

Bollen, J. Invited participant at International Workshop: Mapping (Global) Theatre Histories, Ludwig-Maximillians University, Munich, Germany, 26-28 April, 2013.

Bollen, J. ‘Progress as the future of entertainment – the view from Broken Hill, 1955-1964,’ Another World of Popular Entertainments, University of Newcastle, 12-14 June 2013.

Bollen, J. ‘From The Silver Lining to The Roaring Days! Amateur theatre and social class in Broken Hill, 1940s-1960s,’ Australasian Drama Studies Association conference, Flinders
University, Adelaide, 9-12 July 2012.

Bollen, J. ‘Connecting Australia’s cultural datasets: a vision for collaboration,’ panellist, Digital Humanities conference, Canberra, 28-30 March 2012.

Bollen, J. ‘Aus-e-Stage Navigating Networks: Visualizing Artistic Networks in the Performing Arts,’ with Liz Milford, Corey Wallis, Jenny Fewster, Australian Library and Information Association, Information Online conference, Sydney, 1-3 February 2011.

Bollen, J. ‘Humanities and creative arts eResearch: a BoF for practitioners,’ panellist, eResearch Australasia conference, Melbourne, 7-9 November 2011.

Bollen, J. ‘Networks in AusStage,’ Networks and Network Analysis for the Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities and the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, 15-27 August 2010.

Bollen, J. ‘AusStage,’ Cartographies of the Imagination symposium, Flinders University, 3-5 September 2010.

Bollen, J. ‘Aus-e-Stage Mapping Events,’ with Corey Wallis, Liz Milford, Jenny Fewster and Wei Ren, eResearch Australasia conference, Gold Coast, 8-12 November 2010.

Bollen, J. ‘Visualising Ibsen as an Australian playwright,’ 12th Interntional Ibsen Conference, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, 14-20 Jun 2009.

Bollen, J. ‘Researching audiences: AusStage and the Aus-e-Stage project,’ eResearch Australasia 2009, Sydney, 9-13 Nov 2009.

Bollen, J. ‘AusStage: Collective Intelligence and Data Visualisation for Performing Arts eResearch,’ Allsorts Online: the collecting sector, academia, the arts and the media, Collections Australia Network, Adelaide, 1 Dec 2009.

Bollen, J. ‘Mapping performances – a demonstration,’ with Julie Holledge, Orient North: Mapping Nordic Literary Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles, USA, 3-5 Dec 2009.

Bollen, J. ‘AusStage – an update,’ with Jenny Fewster, Performing Arts Special Interest Group, Museums Australia, Brisbane, 23-25 Jun 2008.

Bollen, J. ‘Integrating performance and research in AusStage,’ Turangawaewae – A Sense of Place, Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 30 Jun – 3 Jul 2008.

Bollen, J. ‘Who works with whom? Visualising networks of artistic collaboration’ with Glen McGillivray, The AusStage Symposium, Flinders University, Adelaide, 25 Sep 2008.

Bollen, J. ‘eResearch in the Performing Arts: Mapping creativity and visualising networks,’ panel session, eResearch Australasia 2008 conference, Melbourne, 29 Sep – 3 Oct 2008.

Bollen, J. ‘AusStage – a work in progress,’ with Jenny Fewster, Performing Arts Special Interest Group, Museums Australia, Adelaide, 18 Jun 2007.