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BM Photo Bruce McConachie is an emeritus professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  A former President of and the winner of the Distinguished Scholar Award (2011) from the American Society for Theatre Research, McConachie’s early work focused on historiography and nineteenth-century American theatre history.   Since 2003 with the publication of American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War, McConachie has investigated the many connections linking performances and mediated dramas to cognitive science and evolution.  Other books focused in this interdisciplinary area include Engaging Audiences: A Cognitive Approach to Spectating in the Theatre (2008), Evolution, Cognition and Performance (2015), and Theatre, Performance, and Cognitive Science (ed. with R. Kemp, 2019).  During this time, he has also participated in the co-writing of three editions of Theatre Histories: An Introduction (2006, 2010, 2016).  His current book project is tentatively entitled Performance, Politics and Climate Change

Abstract: Using the Paradigm of Coevolution to Consider the Epistemological Basis for Performance Knowledges

The cfp for Performance Knowledges invites all of us to explore the many kinds of knowledges that we use to create, rehearse, perform, and enjoy the performing arts: Somatic knowledges in addition to propositional ones, tacit knowledges alongside methodological ones, and ensemble-based knowledges next to individualistic ones. I welcome the opportunity to learn about these different possibilities.  At the same time, though, I want to be sure that the knowledges we explore and eventually choose to celebrate are valid, repeatable pathways to truths grounded in real events. This has been a major problem in the past for many knowledges related to performance, such as Saussurean semiotics, Strasberg’s method acting, Deluze and Guatari’s affect theory, and Brecht’s V-effect, among others. So I’d like to share with you some insights from a relatively new paradigm that features an epistemological approach that will help us to look beyond the vocabulary and claims of each of the knowledges we’re exploring to ask foundational questions about the truths they reveal. A significant key to the paradigm of coevolution is that it erases the dichotomy between nature and nurture, between genetics and learning, that has been the basis of most knowledges from the 1950s to the present. In terms of some of the major questions this conference is asking, coevolution would locate somatic knowledge not as the opposite of, but as the basis for propositional knowledge. It would also privilege group insight over individualistic knowledge and discover tacit approaches in the midst of rigorous methodologies.  After this brief introduction, I’ll examine Lecoq’s regimen for actors and Evan Thompson’s concept of empathy for theatre audiences from the perspective of coevolution and its epistemology. How can we be relatively certain that the approaches of Lecoq and Thompson will reveal significant truths? To understand what counts as a valid truth claim, coevolutionary scholars usually combine John Dewey’s pragmatism with Darwin’s theory of evolution for an epistemology called scientific naturalism. According to one expert, “Naturalism in philosophy requires that we begin our philosophical investigation from the standpoint provided by our best current scientific picture of human beings and their place in the universe. . . .  The science we rely on is not completely certain, of course, and may eventually change.  The questions we try to answer, however, need not be derived from the sciences.” Because the cognitive and neuro-sciences are the most relevant to acting practice and audience behavior, we can expect that they will help us to reveal the truth value (or lack of it) in Lecoq’s and Thompson’s approaches. The rest of my talk will look closely at their major truth claims from a coevolutionary perspective.



LG PhotoLynette Goddard is Professor of Black Theatre and Performance at Royal Holloway, University of London, where they research contemporary Black British playwriting with a focus on the politics of race, gender, and sexuality. Their book publications include Staging Black Feminisms: Identity, Politics, Performance (Palgrave, 2007), Contemporary Black British Playwrights: Margins to Mainstream (Palgrave, 2015), and Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (Routledge, 2017). They are currently researching Black British theatre directors’ processes and productions and a project on how race is portrayed in contemporary plays through such contemporary themes as race, immigration and asylum, race and the police, race and religion, and race and the rise of right-wing politicians.

Abstract:  Remembering Transatlantic Voyages and Slavery’s Afterlife in Black Women’s Solo Performance

This paper compares two solo performances, Mojisola Adebayo’s Moj of the Antarctic (Oval 2007) and Selina Thompson’s Salt (2016) as interrogations of the history of transatlantic slavery and its ‘afterlife’ (Saidiya Hartman). I draw theoretically from Saidiya Hartman, bell hooks, and Christina Sharpe to map these performances as interrogations of the (dis)empowerment of Black women on transatlantic voyages that connects to slavery’s past and its continued impact in the present. Adebayo and Thompson invoke unique Black women’s perspectives to interrogate the intersection of race, gender and sexuality alongside contemporary global concerns, including climate change. Both performances work across disciplinary boundaries of performance art, live art, physical theatre, and storytelling, using techniques of a direct engagement and interaction with audiences. I argue that they use a range of different techniques of solo performance, integrating the aesthetics of stand-up performance, music and spoken word and experimentation with narrative delivery and being conscious of the role of the audience. Their performance strategies evoke both longer traditions of solo Black women’s performance, such as Vaudeville, while also being connected to a contemporary trend for solo stand up and gig performances. Arguably, such performances invite questions about how contemporary Black woman practitioners draw upon African and Caribbean storytelling heritages to create consciousness-raising performances that activate the potential for social change.


MB photoMaaike Bleeker is a professor in the department of Media & Culture Studies at Utrecht University. She received her training in Art History, Philosophy and Theatre Studies from the University of Amsterdam, where she also obtained her PhD from the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA). Bleeker’s research focuses on processes of perception and meaning making in performance, dance, theatre and the arts, as well as in science and in public life. She combines approaches from the arts and performance with insights from philosophy, media theory and cognitive science. She is partner in the project Performative Body Mapping (funded by the ARC) and project leader of Acting Like a Robot: Theatre as Testbed for the Robot Revolution (funded by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research NWO). She served as President of Performance Studies international (PSi, 2011-16). Her monograph Visuality in the Theatre was published by Palgrave (2008). She (co) edited several volumes including Anatomy Live. Performance and the Operating Theatre (2008) Performance & Phenomenology. (Routledge 2015), Transmission in Motion. The Technologizing of Dance (Routledge, 2017) and Thinking Through Theatre and Performance (Bloomsbury 2019). 

 Abstract: Transmission, Technogenesis and Techniques of Abstraction.

During the past decades, many dance makers and  dance companies have invested considerable amounts of time, effort and money to create tools to make, capture, archive, disseminate and study dance. In the volume Transmission in Motion (Routledge 2017), we showed how their explorations are informative not only with regard to the possible usage of technologies in dance practice and research, but also for how they draw attention to the ways in which more generally modes of perceiving, sense making and thinking are intertwined with technology. We think through, with, and alongside the media we use, observes Katherine Hayles (2012). This is what she and other media theorists call technogenesis: the co-evolution of humans and technology. From the first attempts at noting down information, to high-tech digital information storage and retrieval systems, technologies have mediated our psychic organization and reshaped our consciousness. What we know and how, therefore, cannot be understood separately from the technologies we use to process, store, and transmit information. A major step in this co-evolution with technologies of various kinds occurred with the invention of writing and print. The impact of these inventions, Walter Ong (1989) famously observes, is not merely a matter of having a means to store spoken language by writing it down, but manifests itself in major transformation in modes of understanding, thinking, and imagining, including the emergence of new ways of knowing and new conceptions of what knowledge is. Dramatic theatre in Ancient Greece, Derrick de Kerckhove (1980) argues, has to be understood as a place of exploration of implications of this invention of writing and how this invention brought about what Ong has termed the “mind-set of literacy”. My presentation will explore the possibility of understanding transformations in 20th and 21st century dance as indicators of emergence of new corporeal literacies brought about by more recent innovations like cinema, television and digital media. These innovations foreground the fundamental role played by movement in how we come to know the world, as well as the deep connection between movement, abstraction and embodiment.

Last Updated: 14 November 2019

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