- Editorial Comment
This special issue, “Digital ‘Issues’: Rethinking Media in/and/as Performance,” was inspired by a confluence of ideas. The first was the desire to somehow link the two special issues for this year; December’s issue will focus on “Digital Humanities,” and editor Joanne Tompkins and I wanted to think about how media and technology were continuing to influence the field. Additionally, Theatre Journal has been working with publisher Johns Hopkins University Press to develop a more robust online presence (which is currently being finalized); we hope to announce more about this in the December issue. Finally, this issue was inspired by my own ongoing research interests in media and performance, and follows the recent publication of Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field, which I coauthored with Sarah Bay-Cheng and David Saltz (2015). Alongside that volume, we too are attempting to develop a website to accompany the book, and are interested in how media has shifted the understandings of our field.
In conceiving this special issue, I returned to Theatre Journal’s December 1999 special issue on “Theatre and Technology,” where editor Susan Bennett so presciently wrote that “theatre scholarship has started to explore and exploit the multidimensional capacities that new technologies permit.” Again, in 2009 Theatre Journal revisited the topic in the “Digital Media and Performance” special issue, and editor David Saltz interrogated a now maturing form that raised “social, aesthetic, and ontological theoretical issues.” Now, in 2016, mediatization has been absorbed so thoroughly into everyday life that it is increasingly rendered invisible. In a neoliberal political economy in which the cultural mediaturgy, to use Bonnie Marranca’s term, contains a global rise of populism as seen in the UK’s Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential bid, political refugees washing up on shores and screens, and gun violence and racial tensions played out across a myriad of ever-present media devices, mediatization has arguably become the fractured lens through which we understand the world. Advances in digital and computer technologies in this brief timespan have, I think, played out differently than our imaginations, and in this special issue, media and technologies have, in the words of more than one of the issue’s authors, become a mode of thought, absorbed, normalized.
For the call for papers for this special issue I posed such questions as: If it has become so commonplace to see screens, projections, animations, and electronic objects onstage that we could consider reverting “multimedia theatre” back to just “theatre,” how might theatre now take up the effects of mediatization and find new ways to respond to a neoliberal, increasingly technologized, anthropocentric world? At a time when social and political action is framed by documentation and media capture, how can theatre respond to the mediatization of life? What are the methods in media works that demand new critical modes of thinking about performance? The authors of this special issue have taken up these and other questions, confirming how deeply imbricated performance and media have become. [End Page xi]
Paul Rae’s provocative essay “Lawful Espials? Edward Snowden’s Hamlet” opens the issue by revisiting Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a framework for understanding the data-ification of our daily lives as played out in the Snowden case. From mousetraps to metadata, Rae stages a critical commentary on/for both ages, playfully highlighting compelling parallels between these two cases: from Shakespeare’s language of surveil-lance and security, to the whistleblower unwilling to accept things as they seem, to the cast of characters around both Hamlet and Snowden. This is the delight of the unfolding analysis. However, Rae also complicates any simple parallels between Hamlet and Snowden’s reality, insisting that the essay is a way to “think theatre” as a method for teasing out questions of “privacy, secrecy, state power, and self-knowledge” that both cases address. What theatre can offer, Rae suggests, is its persistent analysis of a human scale, something often as odds with the scale of technological development. He reminds us that “[v]ast swathes of human knowledge and contemporary life are currently subject to an ongoing process of digitization,” and that “it is precisely theatre’s...