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Crises of Site: Non-Specificity in the Theater

  • Author(s): Ball, Joyelle
  • Advisor(s): King, William Davies
  • et al.
Abstract

Site-specific continues to be a recognizable descriptor that, when applied to performance, codes for a (potentially) culturally transgressive and aesthetically transformative work that relies on the physical co-presence of non-theatrical site and spectator to produce its effects. Digital and networked technologies, however, destabilize site as a physical concept, expanding the ways in which performance might relate to both virtual and actual environments. In this dissertation, I investigate site-specific performance’s contemporary identity crisis. As the disciplinary frameworks of site, specificity, and performance each expand, affected by the influx of virtual and mediatized interventions, staging practices evolve along with them. The integration of new media forms in performance creates new possibilities for aesthetic and spectatorial experiences. Media technologies like virtual reality systems, interactive gaming interfaces, and live Tweeting alter sensory perception and remediate theatrical experience for a user-spectator who might experience multiple, simultaneous places of performance.

I examine the ways in which these technologically-altered spatial experiences in performance reclaim a specificity purported to be lost. Considering the virtual as site-specific challenges narratives of technological determinism that relegate digitality to realms of disembodiment and distraction. I demonstrate that our digital age is not an age of spatial ambiguity but an opportunity to consider expanded forms of spatial specificity in performance. I explore practices which mix the spatial realities of the spectators by combining, in one form or another, physical and virtual components across multiple spaces, either simultaneously or in archive. These forms mix the experience of a physical environment with that of imagined metaphor, reorient the maps of spectator and performer, displace performances into multiple sites, and dismantle disciplinary binaries of liveness and presence. I present challenges to the conventional disciplinary frameworks that assume a version of liveness and presence that is predicated on physicality. These challenges demonstrate performance’s capacity to extend ways of “being there” without physically being there, reshaping numerous spatial axes of exclusion that include race, class, gender, and physical ability. With the transformations and disruptions involved in making the virtual site-specific, contemporary works reawaken critical analysis of habitual functions of space, shedding light on the intersections of spatial politics and embodiment.

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