Proposal accepted for Studies in Theatre and Performance – Performance and the Right: Strategies and Subterfuges

Abstract

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.

References

Arendt, H. (1981) The Life of the Mind. London: Harcourt

Jones, A. (2016) ‘Introduction’, Performance Research, 21:5, 1-11

Article. Crisis Acting in the Destroyed Room in Performance Research: Staging the Wreckage

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.

Abstract


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.

Paper accepted for Radical Immersions Conference

I will be presenting my paper ‘Communities of Crisis: Digital Spaces, Crisis Acting and Media Wreckage in The Destroyed Room’ at the DHRA conference Radical Immersions: Navigating between virtual/physical environments and information bubbles 8-10 September.

Abstract

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 paper 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 cultural, political and/social norms and precepts of those communities. Media wreckage denotes the fragmentation of political, social, economic and cultural narratives occasioned by the internet acting as the dominant scaffold of human relations. 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 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 propagandist 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 invert it’s meaning in this paper 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. Each piece of wreckage is exhumed in my paper to 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. Online interactivity elides our identities with the media content we share, comment and re-purpose in our networks to construct communal perceptions of reality. This process that fails to produce a cogent political dialectic. Theories of the ‘postdigital’ (Bay-Cheng, 2016; Causey, 2016) provide a conceptual framework for exploring how online interaction is performed in The Destroyed Room as a series of competing narratives. These narratives interweave the identities of each character with the subjects of the media wreckage that become staged through their dialogue. The consequence of constituting the human subject as an ‘inforg’ (Floridi 2014) is to limit visions of humanity’s future to the mediated versions we create online.

References

Bay-Cheng, S. (2016) Postmedia Performance. Contemporary Theatre Review, [online] 26(2). Available at: https://www.contemporarytheatrereview.org/2016/postmedia-

Causey, M. (2016) Postdigital Performance. Theatre Journal, 68(3), pp.427-441


Floridi, L. (2014) The Fourth Revolution. How the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford University Press

Trans-Participation in the Infosphere, DocPerform 3: Postdigital. City, University of London, May 16 2019

I lead the DocPerform project with my colleague Dr Lyn Robinson. The third event in our symposia series looked at concepts of the postdigital and technological immersion.

The full version of my paper can be read on the DocPerform website.

***

Abstract
The real world, as we experience it today, is intimately connected with technological mediation. Drawing on theories of post-humanism, onlife, the infosphere, and audience participation, this paper addresses how the cultural, social and political beliefs of participants in immersive theatre can be trans-ed. The relationality inherent in the term trans- refers to the complex web of connections participants navigated and created in the performances Operation Black Antler by Blast Theory and Hydrocracker and One Day, Maybe by dreamthinkspeak. The dramaturgies in both pieces were experienced as a network of bodies, times, historical and national narratives. In this paper I will explore how trans- offers a strategy of performative political discourse where (sexual, gender, racial, etc.) identities become dramaturgically fluid and unfixed, and if such a mode of participation can effectuate a form of dialectic that is contingent on participating in acts of empathy rather than of conflict. A corollary to this process can be found in Luciano Floridi’s conceptualisation of contemporary technological environment, which he terms the infosphere (2014). The production and dissemination of media acts as the diffuse infrastructure of the infosphere and replicates our presence across platforms and communication networks. The compulsion to connect with realities and experiences outside of our everyday life allows us to stretch our real self and play identities as a means of establishing empathetic relations with histories, ideas and people; this is the core principle of trans-participation. I contend that audience participation in the context of the infosphere and onlife – where the digital and the real worlds become a seamless experience – complicate rhetorically crude conceptions of post-truth and fake news by allowing people to play identities drawn from media.

Conference Paper ‘Towards a Post-Immersive Manifesto’

I gave this paper at the TaPRA Interim Event: Immersive and Interactive Technologies and Live Performance, University of Cardiff, April 6. The paper concerns the post-immersive manifesto I am writing with ZU-UK Theatre and Digital Arts Company and TAG.

***

Abstract
Immersive has become one of the most common but nebulous terms in the UK theatre scene over the past two decades. Promising a special or merely novel experience for audiences, the lexicon of immersion has entered many different social spheres. Shopping centres like Westfield (Stratford, East London) promise shoppers a leisure experience that transcends the boundaries of conventional retail. When used in the context of online activity (‘screen time’) immersion denotes disconnection from the real world. Immersion is now a byword for describing an escape from what can be considered productive activity by denuding the individual of their agency as moral and critically aware individuals. A post-immersive arts practice stands in opposition to the escapist imaginary of immersion by foregrounding the role the participant plays as an agent of social production. Social production describes the reflexive relationship between artist and participant in interactive art works, where both assume responsibility for constructing a narrative in virtual and physical spaces. This paper will show examples of art-works and experiments produced by collaborators ZU-UK and TAG over the past four years. We will propose a model of post-immersive audience participation by arguing that embodied and interactive technology in performance provides an architecture for artists and participants to play roles within scenarios that elide the real and the fictional. This mode of social production creates temporary communities whose aesthetic experience is defined by their relationality with diverse subjectivities which are already present within the performance and which manifest through social production ie what the participants bring with them (identity, politics, culture, bodies, etc.). We will discuss how post-immersive performance events can be scaled up and effective models of interdisciplinary collaboration.

***

Following on from the annual conference at Aberystwyth and previous group events and conversations, the aim of the 2019 interim event is to explore different practices and modes of immersive and interactive technologies in live performance, as well as to investigate new narrative possibilities and audiences’ virtual experiences in live performance created by immersive technologies. As Kerry Francksen and Sophy Smith (2018) note, ‘[t]he use of virtual reality (VR) technologies has seen a significant resurgence in both industry-led and artistic communities in recent times. This re-emergence can be linked to the continuing growth and advancement in smart phone technologies (e.g. developments in accelerometers and gyrospic chips), as well as a significant interest within the games industry for developing a greater quality gaming experience.’ We want to explore this emergent theme and extend the 2018 TaPRA working group’s discussions on Empathy and Inclusiveness in Immersive Technologies to question: What new tools and spaces do immersive technologies offer to theatre and live performance? What opportunities and challenges do immersive technologies bring to the digital performer/performance-maker, from new forms of audience/participant interaction to new performance training methodologies, to new rehearsal methods and documentation strategies?