- Editorial Comment: Theatre, the Digital, and the Analysis and Documentation of Performance
Throughout its history, theatre has capitalized on advances in technology, from shifts in lighting practices, to the development of machinery for creating special effects, to the advent of multimedia in contemporary performance, and beyond. Multimedia is now integral to contemporary performance, but also increasingly to the ways in which theatre and performance research takes place. Theatre analysis is responding to quantitative methods, interrogations of large datasets and/or databases, and the visualization of theatre and performance and/or simulated environments, in addition to more traditional qualitative approaches. Taking advantage of digital humanities tools does not dilute or compromise intellectual inquiry; rather, it has the potential to extend the parameters of research in theatre and performance.
In Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field, Sarah Bay-Cheng, Jen Parker-Starbuck, and David Saltz address the need to describe multimedia performance or intermedial work in a coherent, internationally accepted way. Howsoever we analyze such performance, they insist that “we must integrate both the rigor of traditional methodologies with the responsiveness of new digital systems.”1 Their argument applies just as well to the use of digital scholarship that shapes research projects, which is the focus of this special issue. I would add another condition to working with digital technologies: that research in the digital sphere should produce something new, by adding to the discourse, otherwise it is not deploying the “responsiveness of digital systems” of which Bay-Cheng, Parker-Starbuck, and Saltz speak. My own experience has been that investigations of theatre that use digital tools are likely to produce quite significantly new outcomes, conclusions, and avenues for research, well beyond a default response of showing off an interesting website or dataset or visualization. The essays in this issue use digital technologies to produce something that was not possible or apparent before. The authors demystify digital humanities methodologies for theatre and performance research/researchers by demonstrating that theatre history has always employed quantitative, bigger picture approaches in addition to close readings of performances, and that digital technologies facilitate the analysis of larger datasets more effectively. As well, they reinforce the importance of complementarity and collaboration in digital research in theatre and performance.
Sarah Bay-Cheng’s essay “Digital Historiography and Performance” begins this special issue, bridging to Theatre Journal’s special issue in September, edited by Jen Parker-Starbuck. Whereas the focus then, in “Digital ‘Issues’: Rethinking Media in/and/as Performance,” was performance that deploys technology, the essays in this [End Page xi] December issue extend the reach of technology to address the reconfiguring of research in theatre and performance. Bay-Cheng continues the arguments in the September issue while articulating how digital technologies affect and are shaped by theatre and performance. The object of her study is the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which she uses to investigate how digital media transforms historical narratives into modes of performance. She helpfully distinguishes between digital performance and digital humanities in theatre and performance studies. The latter, the focus of this issue, covers research and methodologies that deploy digital technologies to analyze theatre and performance. Delineating how such work typically takes place, she outlines the ways in which such research offers the potential for “new conceptual frameworks” through which to analyze both performance and the approaches themselves. Thoroughly embedded in the critical discourse of this field, she makes an important intervention in the need for a clear understanding of “digital historiography and performance” to investigate the intersections of history, performance, and digital technologies.
In “Average Broadway” Derek Miller articulates the new conceptual frameworks that Bay-Cheng outlines, particularly in the context of digital historiography. Miller deploys digital tools to produce a different interpretation of Broadway than the one with which most readers might be familiar. He investigates the data available on over 9,300 Broadway productions since 1915 to argue what a Broadway show looks like from the perspective of the “average” rather than concentrating on the smash hits, or the handful of shows that typically characterize most historiographic studies, or the well-known artists. By examining cast sizes, production staff, and genres, Miller provides a...