- Theatre, Performance and Cognition: Languages, Bodies and Ecologies ed. by Rhonda Blair, Amy Cook, and: Theatre and Cognitive Neuroscience ed. by Clelia Falletti, Gabriele Sofia, Victor Jacono
In their excellent edited collection Rhonda Blair and Amy Cook highlight the evolving and broadening interest in cognitive science (a field that includes neuroscience, psychology, cognitive linguistics, and philosophy) by scholars and practitioners of performance. Along with Clelia Falletti, Gabriele Sofia, and Victor Jacono’s collection, which was published at the same time as part of Bloomsbury Methuen Drama’s Performance and Science: Interdisciplinary [End Page 687] Dialogues series, their book demonstrates how rich and varied this interdisciplinary research has become over the twenty years since it first emerged.
As Blair and Cook note in their introduction to the first book, one of the reasons that cognitive science became attractive to theatre and performance scholars during the late 1990s and early 2000s was that many cognitive scientists and philosophers had abandoned the understanding of cognition as the property of an autonomous brain, for one that sees it as embodied, enactive, and embedded in an ecological relationship with the world into which it extends. Drawing on phenomenology and approaches like dynamic systems theory, this “second generation” of cognitive science formed a natural fit with performance’s embodied, situated actions. Blair and Cook acknowledge the challenges facing nonscientists who endeavor to apply scientific findings to a field like theatre, and they are careful to point out that science does not necessarily confer authority when it comes to matters of consciousness and experience. Indeed, one of the strengths of this collection is its demonstration that theatre, dance, and performance studies offer essential insights to the sciences of the mind by analyzing perception, movement, and action in their material, social, and cultural environments.
The essays included in Theatre, Performance and Cognition are organized within three sections, each of which identifies an area of fertile interdisciplinary scholarship and each with its own introduction. In an effort to turn this interdisciplinarity into a two-way dialogue, Blair and Cook have arranged for prominent scientist/philosophers to write a response to the essays in each section. Part 1 focuses on the contribution of cognitive linguistics to theatre studies. Arguing that language in the theatre is multimodal, Barbara Dancygier asserts that objects and bodies provide dramatic and narrative anchors for the unfolding play. Laura Seymour considers kneeling in Julius Caesar as an embodied metaphor with cognitive and historical valences concerning power and submission. Drawing (among other things) on neuroscientific work on perspective-taking and Gilles Fauconnier’s Mental Spaces framework, Vera Tobin offers a powerful account of irony as a viewpoint phenomenon. Cognitive linguist Mark Turner concludes this section by advocating the use of different methods, including the compilation of language-performance databases, when studying the human mind.
Part 2 focuses on the performer by adopting cognitive-studies perspectives on training, rehearsal, and performance. Neal Utterback brings exercise science, sports psychology, and cognitive science to his work with novice actors as a way to train the “pre-theatrical individual” (92), while Edward Warburton analyzes the technique of marking in dance rehearsal as a cognitive movement-reduction strategy. In an expansive, nuanced essay, Christopher Jackman discusses the phenomenon of creative flow in performance, a topic that comes up in other essays throughout this volume. All three authors integrate the understandings of cognitive science with practical theatre experience. Cognitive scientist Catherine Stevens recounts her own research on the creative process in dance in her response to the essays in this section.
Part 3 considers the embeddedness of theatrical cognition in its environment, and the various ways that actors and audiences make use of this environment as they participate in the theatrical event. Evelyn Tribble builds on her previously published work on distributed cognition by discussing the role of cognitive scaffolding in the development...