Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Daniel Johnston, Research Affiliate, University of Sydney

Being close to others is intrinsically associated with theatre.

In Shakespeare’s London, theatre gatherings were condemned by the Puritans as evil. They thought the plague spread by theatre crowds was God’s punishment on the wicked for indulging in pastimes such as acting.

The shutting down of Broadway and the West End gives an eerie historical parallel to a world we thought was well in the past. Meanwhile, COVID-19 poses as an existential threat for Australia’s fragile performing arts sector.

While some artists look to stream performances online, there is something missing without others “being there” to witness performance in the flesh. Proximity and touch are crucial to “liveness”.

what losing live audiences may mean for theatre Queen Elizabeth viewing the performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe Theatre of London. David Scott (1840). Wikiart

Festivals of togetherness

Touch is commonly associated with ritual through what anthropologist Victor Turner calls “communitas” – a shared and equal feeling of togetherness. In the Catholic mass, members of the congregation shake hands during the “sign of peace” creating a feeling of community. The Maori pōwhiri (welcoming ceremony) culminates in the “hongi” (pressing noses together). The Hajj is characterised by close embodied proximity of believers at the holy site in Islam.

Touch can be important to cultural festivals too. Performance anthropologist J. Lowell Lewis notes that in Brazil’s Carnival:

the degree of close contact is quite important to the sense of a successful festival, for many, and is directly related to a positive valuation of what they call movimento (literally, movement; figuratively, something like the English colloquial sense of “where the action is” at a party scene or perhaps a “happening” situation) …

Live arts and theatre might not be founded in grand narratives of religious and cultural belief, but they do bring people together in a common experience.

Touching histories in theatre

From the ancient Greeks through to the Romans and Middle Ages, there was a theory we are always in contact through an invisible “ether” that exists between bodies.

The famous Russian director and father of actor-training, Constantin Stanislavski, wrote about a “communion” between actors and audience through invisible rays of communication linking by what he called “irradiation”. He also talked about “grasp” on an audience in moments of inspiration.

Avant garde French poet and theatre-maker, Antonin Artaud, speculated about “theatre and the plague” and dreamt of a direct communication of thought and meaning through the body in live performance.

Brazilian theatre-maker and political activist, Augusto Boal, developed theatre games in which touch was crucial for bringing a community together through what he called Theatre of the Oppressed. Proximity and feeling were important for participants understanding each other’s perspective and exploring different ways we might engage in social and political change.

More recently, we have seen the rise of immersive theatre which breaks the fourth wall and allows audiences and performers to interact in specific surroundings, often through improvisation.

Tactility is part of what ethnographer Clifford Geertz calls our “matrix of sensibility”. Skin-to-skin contact is crucial to the mother-infant relationship and our very first awareness of the world.

But with new media, seeing is the dominant way we tend to consume entertainment. The risk is that we might lose a sense of feeling and responsibility.

Philosophy and Ethics

In many ways, touch is fundamental to the way we come to know the world as theorised by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The phrase, “getting a handle on something” can mean practical and emotional knowledge about the world. So when we say a performance was “touching”, it can also be an embodied feeling of change.

Arts and theatre companies are already finding innovative ways of reaching audiences. Part of the thrill of being at a live event is a sense of danger. Audience members see each other. Things might go wrong. You might be handpicked as a volunteer from the audience. And there is a mutual obligation developed through laughter, silence and applause.

How these dangers will transmit via Zoom, Skype or Instagram Live remains to be seen.

Read more: When one door closes, open a window - 14 sites with great free art

Evolution

Perhaps limiting touch will serve to increase the meaning of proximity on the occasions that it does occur.

Our heightened awareness of touch and proximity might have benefits in terms of staying away from others if we are unwell, washing hands and maintaining personal hygiene. Lady Macbeth’s untimely demise might serve a double purpose if we say her famous “Out damned spot!”speech twice while scrubbing and rinsing.

In the meantime, new norms around touch and proximity will emerge and performance will play an important part in reflecting and changing social attitudes.

Authors: Daniel Johnston, Research Affiliate, University of Sydney

Read more https://theconversation.com/the-power-of-proximity-and-the-theatre-of-touch-what-losing-live-audiences-may-mean-for-theatre-133515

Writers Wanted

Radicalism mixed with openness: how Desmond Tutu used his gifts to help end Apartheid

arrow_forward

Pfizer doses to be spaced out in NSW crisis, but state fails to get change in vaccination program

arrow_forward

Alternative Hobbies for Gamers

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning to you.   PRIME MINISTER: G’day, Ray.   HADLEY: Gee, you’ve had a week.   PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's been a lot of weeks like this. This time last...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Ray Hadley's interview with Scott Morrison

RAY HADLEY: I'm going to go straight to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison is on the line right now. Prime Minister, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ray.   HADLEY: Just d...

Ray Hadley - avatar Ray Hadley

Defence and Veterans suicide Royal Commission

Today the Government has formally established a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide following approval by the Governor-General.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Royal Commi...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Record year of growth for Tweed based business The Electrical Co

While many businesses struggled to stay afloat during the COVID-19 affected 2021 financial year, Tweed Heads based The Electrical Co. completed more than 50,000 smart meter installations across Aust...

a contributor - avatar a contributor

The Most Common Reasons why Employees End Up Leaving a Company

It is important for businesses to make sure they find the right people for their open positions. That is why a lot of companies are relying on professional outplacement services. A lot of companie...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com

The little Aussie face sock startup is riding the personalized gift game

In a world where everybody has different desires, interests, and goals, what can be better than giving them things that meet their individual requirements. Personalized gifts have taken on the mar...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com