After a relatively quiet summer I’m getting ready for another packed academic year.
I got off to an early start by submitting my latest article ‘Trans-Participation: Resisting Brexit through networked thinking in immersive theatre’. It will hopefully be published in a special edition of Studies in Theatre and Performance: Performance and the Right – Strategies and Subterfuges. But as we all know academic publishing is a lengthy process, so it’s submitting the first draft is just the first hurdle. But I am optimistic it will be accepted. It’s actually the third iteration of an article I’ve been trying to write for two years now. I instinctively felt the ontologies of immersion and participation in theatre had a lot to teach us about the new so-called post-truth reality we’re now living in.
My research was greatly enhanced by reading library and information science literature, particularly Luciano Floridi’s The 4th Revolution (2014) and Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2019). But it wasn’t until I read David Runciman’s superb How Democracy Ends (2019) that my ideas around the meaning of participation in the context of internet-based politics really fell into place. I argue in the article that populism instrumentalises the public imagination in order to eliminate discursive thinking in democracy. The discourses of trans- represent a strategy to oppose populism by framing reality as porous, unfixed and most importantly unpredictable. Trans-participation allows audiences to experience how the internet-based reality reflections the contradictory perspectivalism of humankind.
Over the next few months I’ll be writing a chapter for a forthcoming book on Clive Barker’s legacy. I’ll be drawing on my PhD research into the 2012 Olympic Legacy to analyse how Barker’s work with games in theatre and Joan Littlewood’s Fun Palace help us to understand how art has come to reflect a neoliberal ethos of participation in the twenty-first century.
I’ll be continuing to teach at City, University of London and Rose Bruford College, as well as guest lecturing at the University of East London. One of my new responsibilities at RBC is delivering the Performative Writing/Vade Mecum module at Arthaus in Berlin a few times a year. My first class is in two weeks. I’ll be using the trip to visit the Stasi Museum for some research for a role I may be doing with theatre company Fourth Monkey (funding permitting) for their production of Stasiland. I won’t say any more at this stage because it’s all theoretical, but watch this space.
To top it all off I’m starting a new teaching job at Mountview next week. I’m running the Creative Producing MA with Pam Solomon Fraser and teaching the Cultural Ecology component. I met the students on Wednesday – a fantastic group bursting with ideas on what they think theatre should be doing in today’s complex and unstable world. It was quite an emotional experience going back to Peckham. I lived in Peckham and worked at the public library during my PhD. A lot has happened in the last four years but I will never forget the experience. Wonderful people and a fantastic institution.
I’m giving a paper on Tuesday 10 September at the Radical Immersions conference. My paper is titled ‘Communities of Crisis: Digital Spaces, Crisis Acting and Media Wreckage in The Destroyed Room’. The paper is based on an article that will be published at the end of the month in Performance Research: Staging the Wreckage which looks at how the Vanishing Point stage the breakdown of political discourse social media-based interactivity engenders. The conference is being streamed live via Periscope. You can watch the conference by following this link https://www.pscp.tv/drha2019 .
I’m presenting papers on performance and the digital from the perspectives of post-truth history, the crisis acting conspiracy theory and the modern surveillance state.
- Radical Immersions: Navigating between virtual/physical environments and information bubbles. Watermans Art Centre 8-10 September http://www.2019.drha.uk/
- Interactive Narratives – the Future of Storytelling and Immersion in mixed reality mediums and performing arts. Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest 10-12 November https://zip-scene.mome.hu/
The signature of digital culture is a compulsion to connect with realities and experiences outside of our community. Optimally, pervasive connectivity allows us to stretch our real self by playing identities as a means of establishing empathetic relations with multiple histories, ideas and perspectives. The growing influence of identitarian tribal affiliations on the left and right – exacerbated by the immersive worlds we build online – inhibits discursive acts of imagination. This article argues the imaginations of audiences can be trans-ed by inviting them to participate in discursive thinking events in immersive theatre. I apply Amelia Jones’s conception of trans- as a term ‘implying exceeding, moving towards, changing; going across, over or beyond’ (2016:1) to analyze the complex web of connections participants scaffold in the performances Operation Black Antler by Blast Theory and Hydrocracker (2019) and One Day, Maybe by dreamthinkspeak (2017) between bodies, times, historical and national narratives. I will explore how trans- manifests as a performative dialectic where (sexual, gender, racial, etc.) identities become dramaturgically fluid and unfixed, and consider how this mode of participation can effectuate forms of discursive thinking that are contingent on participating in acts of empathy rather than of conflict. Hannah Arendt’s writings on representative thinking – perceiving political realities outside of one’s community by bringing examples to mind ‘that are not actually present’ (1981) – provides a critical framing for trans-participation in my argumentation. I argue trans-participation constitutes a thinking event which allows individuals to experience perspectives as a strategy of challenging right-wing national narratives of the people versus the elites. Trans-participation complicates rhetorically crude conceptions of post- truth by allowing people to play identities that connect them to the far-right ideology in Operation Black Antler and competing national narratives of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea in One Day, Maybe inside fictional worlds.
Arendt, H. (1981) The Life of the Mind. London: Harcourt
Jones, A. (2016) ‘Introduction’, Performance Research, 21:5, 1-11
I have been notified by the editors that my article has been accepted for publication. This edition of Performance Research will be published in August 2019.
The ubiquity of the internet immerses us in waves of traumatic information, leaving us desperately crawling through media wreckage to make sense of the world. This article appropriates the term ‘crisis acting’ from the alt-right political lexicon to analyse how interacting with media forces us to affiliate with communities and distorts perceptions of reality to conform to the norms and precepts of those communities. Media wreckage denotes the fragmentation of hegemonic narratives occasioned by the internet acting as the dominant scaffold of human relationality. I use this critical framing to argue that the corrosive effects of immersive online networks are performed in Vanishing Point’s The Destroyed Room (2016). The performance is a semi-improvised conversation between three actors who debate the ethics of watching videos depicting IS executions, the 2015 Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris, the refugee crisis and scenes of natural disasters. Crisis acting is a conspiracy most famously propagated by the alt-right activist Alex Jones, host of the online broadcaster InfoWars. Jones spread a disinformation campaign that survivors of high school shootings in the US are government agents working for the New World Order. Conspiracies act as information contagion in public discourse. Crisis acting in the New World Order imaginary is a narrative of control and dominance by omnipotent forces. The narrative is created by re-purposing extant media content into believable (if entirely fictitious) versions of reality. I adapt it’s meaning in this article to explore how The Destroyed Room stages a collective failure to establish global empathetic relationships in digital spaces with media content, a process I describe as ‘crisis acting’. Terror, social media and climate breakdown constitute the three pieces of media wreckage that are staged as dialogue in The Destroyed Room. I argue that constructing narratives of reality with media wreckage turns us into crisis actors who cannot imagine ways of performing in the world as political agents outside of digital spaces.