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  • Introduction:Performance and Consciousness
  • Peter Zazzali, Guest Editor (bio)

In referencing his latest drama, The Hard Problem, Tom Stoppard claims how human beings “account for consciousness”:

Most things are not conscious. This table we are sitting at isn’t conscious. Vegetables aren’t conscious. We are conscious, and nobody understands how we do that; physically, scientifically or metaphysically. Nobody really knows; and that’s the ‘hard problem.’1

Coined by the Australian philosopher David Chalmers, the “hard problem” of consciousness has perplexed human beings throughout history. How we interpret and comprehend the natural world in relationship to its spiritual opposite, our physical experience compared to the psychological, and the corporeal relative to the phenomenal has challenged neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists, biologists, and theologians for centuries. As Chalmers argues, “there can be no wholly reductive explanation of consciousness,” a conceit that speaks to the difficulty with which we understand and perceive the world before and beyond us.2

The dilemma of consciousness has particularly piqued the interest of performance scholars of late, most especially those who study actor training and spectatorship. In the case of the latter, Bruce McConachie’s Engaging Audiences and Theatre and Mind indirectly builds on the sociocultural methodology of Susan Bennett (Theatre Audiences) to explore how spectators imagine, understand, and empathize. Acting theorists Joseph Roach, Rhonda Blair, and John Lutterbie have likewise grappled with the thorny issue of consciousness in examining the psychophysics of performance relative to the actor’s use of his imagination, memory, and most crucially, emotions. How does the brain ascribe meaning to a performance? How do the mind and body facilitate an experience for actors and spectators, and [End Page 65] in what ways do natural and phenomenal realms intersect therein? These are just a few of the important questions performance scholars are currently undertaking.

This special section further explores the abovementioned queries. As such, we feature a cross section of international experts in the subfields of performance and consciousness, audience reception, and actor training who have contributed articles that are as varied in their methodologies as they are related in subject matter. With his article, “Liveness: Phelan, Auslander, and After,” Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe frames our issue by applying the Auslander/Phelan debate on liveness to simulcast viewings of performance. Ultimately, he uses Vedanta philosophy to explain how a “higher” or “pure” state of consciousness can induce a phenomenological encounter between a remote actor and audience member, an experience that Dinkgräfe argues is the same as if encountered in person: the key criterion being that the “live” event must occur simultaneously with its remote viewing.

Stanton Garner’s “In Search of Merrick: Kinesthetic Empathy, Able-Bodiedness, and Disability Representation” presents the Proteus Theatre Company’s production of The Elephant Man to analyze the audience reception of an able-bodied portrayal of a disabled character. He thus introduces the concept of “kinesthetic empathy” toward exploring how one perceives and self-identifies with a disabled figure—such as Merrick—in the context of an able-bodied performance. At stake in Garner’s intriguing analysis is a cultural and cognitive understanding of conciousness relative to spectatorship.

In “Notes Toward a Theory of Spectating,” James Hamilton offers “new questions” in conjunction with a fresh analysis regarding spectatorship and consciousness. Taking into account the length, temporal rhythms, and duration of a given performance, he shifts from the common inquiry of content to locate his investigation squarely on the spectator. In doing so, he deploys Bayesian learning combined with cognitive theory to discern how audiences perceive and understand performance.

Caroline and Christian Heim’s co-authored effort adds to the inquiry of consciousness and spectatorship.3 Their article, “No Exit From the Gaze: Sartre’s Theory Through Aspects of Meisner’s Practice,” studies salient Sartrean concepts, most especially his so-called “gaze,” in conversation with Sanford Meisner’s training techniques related to a production of No Exit at the Sydney-based theatre company, Crossbow Productions. The Heims’ balancing of acting theory, text analysis, and theatrical praxis examines how a philosophically complex play such as No Exit can be understood by actors and audiences alike. Thus, the article explores the “dual conciousness” that performers and spectators experience by suggesting...


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