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Cyborg presence in narrative theatre
journal contributionposted on 2014-12-01, 00:00 authored by Gorkem AcarogluGorkem Acaroglu
New technologies are transforming the shape and function of contemporary performance practice. Dance in particular has been at the forefront of dissolving the boundaries between humans and technology. In Australia alone, works such as Gideon Obarzanek's GLOW (Chunky Move) and Garry Stewart's Proximity (Australian Dance Theatre) have offered technology a role traditionally preserved only for the live human performer. As these technologies infiltrate theatre practice and their capacity to be co-actors with humans on stage increases, we need to carefully interrogate the notion of the actor's presence. For an overwhelming number of scholars and critics, presence is the defining quality of theatrical performance. Theatre has been privileged as the site where people witness other people together in the same physical space. Digital technologies can be seen as a threat to this and to the actor's presence. Cormac Power's Presence in Play provides a comprehensive analysis of theatrical presence that encapsulates a poststructuralist critique of presence while maintaining the notion of 'presence' as a key aspect of theatre. In this article, I take up Power's category of the literal mode of presence and examine three case studies that use digital technology in ways that disturb traditional conceptions of presence. I investigate the impact that digital technologies in live performance have on theatre's claims to literal presence. I also investigate the indirect impact that these technologies have on forms of fictional and auratic presence (these are Power's terms, which I will define shortly). First, I will establish the centrality of presence to the vast body of commentary on theatre; then, I will draw on Derrida's analysis of the metaphysics of presence to unsettle dominant assumptions about the function of presence in theatre, arguing that such a privileging of presence demonises projected media as a form of contamination that impedes theatre's ability to represent 'truth'. I use Jennifer Parker-Starbuck's term 'Cyborg Theatre' to discuss three examples of digital performance that have used technology to question and challenge our relationship to technology in everyday life. These works challenge traditional notions of selfhood and force us to interrogate the borders between the live and the mediated.