- Embodied Consciousness: Performance Technologies ed. by Jade Rosina McCutcheon and Barbara Sellers-Young
Jade Rosina McCutcheon and Barbara Sellers-Young’s collection of essays, Embodied Consciousness: Performance Technologies, contributes to “the discursive shift in the humanities and the arts from the textual to the performative,” specifically focusing on the body as a locus of knowledge and technique within performance and theatre (1). McCutcheon and Sellers-Young select essays that combine recent neuroscience with theories of performance in order to contemplate, question, and ultimately understand embodied consciousness through theatre and performance technologies. They define embodied consciousness as “an integration of the brain and the body as they interact with the environment.” In other words: “We think and act from an integrated neurological system, which structures our processes of thinking and is referred to as embodied cognition: an idea that cognition is situated in the body as well as the brain” (2–3). Taking this definition as a starting point, McCutcheon and Sellers-Young bring in contributors with a diverse array of backgrounds in “neuroscience, history, philosophy, performance pedagogy and the artistic endeavors of acting, directing, and community-based practice” to more fully explore the potential interaction between neuroscience and performance (4).
The collection comprises fourteen essays grouped into four different parts. The first essay, by neuroscientist D. W. Zaidel, “Consciousness and the Brain: A Window to the Mind,” serves as an introduction to consciousness studies in the field of neuroscience. Zaidel’s essay quickly outlines the history of consciousness and its connection to the brain and provides us with a map of where consciousness studies has gone in the last decade by highlighting some of the field’s major concerns: biological and evolutionary issues, embodiment, notions of the self, and awareness versus nonawareness. The essay serves as a fine primer for the rest of the collection’s four parts.
The book’s first two parts, “Pedagogy of Performance Training” and “Eastern Influences on Western Performance Technologies,” provide detailed accounts of how neuroscience has been and might further be used to understand and improve our methods of actor training. Elizabeth Carlin-Metz’s piece, “The Neuroscience of Performance Pedagogy,” provides the most all-inclusive examination of neuroscience’s place in performance pedagogy by engaging neuroscience as a way to explore the complicated nature of the age-old Cartesian debate of [End Page 346] mind versus body. Relying on the concept of embodied consciousness, Carlin-Metz succeeds in arguing for a pedagogy of experiential practices by focusing on neuroscientific structures such as mirror neurons, the physical sensory feedback system, and the construction of memory. Importantly, Carlin-Metz never loses site of the analytical, rational, and logical requirements of acting. Conversely, Bella Merlin, in the same section, delivers a personal account of stage fright to investigate the dual nature of an actor’s consciousness (actor/character) through a neuroscientific approach to subjectivity and the self. Merlin ultimately suggests a specialized warm-up regimen that she argues will help reduce the risk of fragmentation of the actor’s consciousness, something she believes is one of the causes of stage fright. Other essays focus on the ability of certain actor training techniques to create altered states of consciousness (ASC), such as Devika Wasson’s “Pause in Breath: Potential for Altered States of Consciousness in Traditional Indian Performance” and R. Andrew White’s “Altered States: Radiating Consciousness in Michael Chekhov’s Technique.” These essays work to explicate and justify established training techniques through the use of neuroscience. Thus, within these two parts there are two different kinds of essays: those that attempt to develop and alter actor training based on neuroscience, like Carlin-Metz’s work, and those that seek to explain and justify acting practices through neuroscience, like White and Wasson’s work. Both implementations of neuroscience will be of interest to those who want to learn how such interactions can be applied to a diverse array of performance practices and pedagogies.
The final two parts focus on the primary relationship of the theatrical experience: that between...