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  • Susan Bennett

Technology has always been a part of theatre and the so-called “new technologies” are, it seems, everywhere in today’s theatre studies. Audiences, critics and scholars alike have become seriously interested in those contemporary artists who have consciously explored the creative possibilities that such technologies afford. But the impact of new technologies extends far beyond its role as performance tool or subject and affects the very way we, as theatre scholars, do our business. New technologies are commonly at our fingertips when we produce our scholarship, even if this is only by our tapping away at the laptop keyboard. More ambitiously, some theatre scholarship has started to explore and exploit the multidimensional capabilities that new technologies permit. And Theatre Journal is, of course, no exception: as well as the print issue that likely the majority of TJ readers have in their hands as they read these words, an increasing number of you may well be looking at this issue on your computer screen or downloading it to your desktop from the Johns Hopkins University Press’s field-leading “Project Muse.”

The articles assembled in this special issue represent some of the intricate and thought-provoking implications of technology for the study of theatre. In the first essay, Johannes Birringer’s “Contemporary Technology/Performance,” the author looks to a range of work imbued with new technologies which use, re-use, and reimagine concepts of movement, aesthetics, and, indeed, performance itself. Birringer considers how digital environments open up performance possibilities and often pursue relentlessly the goal of interactivity. This, as Birringer notes, has very particular implications not only for the role of the spectator but for the very processes of artistic creation. His discussions lead us to new matrices of analysis for the understanding of how performance comes into view and the very many vistas on which performance appears, as well as for the understanding of reception modes.

The range of key examples examined in “Contemporary Technology/Performance,” as well as some of the theatrical work reviewed in this issue’s Performance Review section (including performance work by Laurie Anderson, George Coates, Bob McGrath and Cathy Weis), also gives us a strong sense of how performance boundaries and genres have become blurred with the effect of expanding what, in the broadest sense, we consider to be performance. Matthew Causey’s essay “The Screen Test of the Double: The Uncanny Performer in the Space of Technology” pursues further this blurring of boundaries and genres as he takes on the binary which sets as eternal opposities the live and the virtual. He looks to the experience of self as other in the space of technology, something to be read as an uncanny experience. Once again, interactivity is the turn on which the challenges are made.

Causey is surely right to see the televisual screen as a privileged object in contemporary cultural production. Its particular place (literal and metaphorical) in the medium of theatre has raised some crucial questions for understanding spectators’ experience of so-called “live” performance. What happens, then, when our eyes turn more often to the “jumbotron” screen than to the live performers whose images are brightly illuminated above us, dwarfing the “real” presence doing the “real” work on stage? Have we more readily embraced the televisual screen in an anxious denial of the presence of the body?

New technologies may be rewriting the terms and conditions of contemporary performance but, like everything else, technology has a history and its narratives have played a prominent role in much of twentieth-century history generally—and its theatre history in particular. Anja Klöck returns to the fascination with technology that characterized the Italian Futurist performances in the first three decades of this century and she opens up that particular history in order to understand technology as a conduit for the political ambivalances of Futurist practice. Working with Teresa de Lauretis’s influential articulation of the technologies of gender, Klöck situates that theoretical perspective firmly in the political and cultural context of 1930s Italy and persuasively reads the contribution of Giannina Censi’s aerial dances to that history. Klöck’s [End Page iv] insistence on an historicized reading...

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pp. iv-v
Launched on MUSE
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