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  • Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field by Sarah Bay-Cheng, Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, and David Z. Saltz
  • Elise Morrison (bio)
Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field. By Sarah Bay-Cheng, Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, and David Z. Saltz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015; 192 pp.; illustrations. $75.00 cloth, $26.95 paper, e-book available.

Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field, written collaboratively by Sarah Bay-Cheng, Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, and David Z. Saltz, takes on the timely project of organizing a genre that, due to its emergent, rapidly expanding nature, is frequently described in list form. Intervening in the familiar catechism of terms ("multimedia performance, intermedial performance, cyborg theatre, digital performance, virtual theatre, and new media dramaturgy, among others"), they argue: "we do not require another all-encompassing term or totalizing narrative; rather, we need new tools and methods that embrace and build upon the multiplicity of issues and perspectives inherent in the field" (1). As three of the leading scholars in the field of intermedial performance, Bay-Cheng, Parker-Starbuck, and Saltz are well suited to answer this need. Emerging out of several years of working group meetings that have tracked the proliferating "species" produced by the fertile intersection of media and performance, this book offers three distinct yet complementary taxonomic methods—each one developed independently by one of the authors. These insightful and user-friendly analytical frameworks, which can be used separately or in concert, will provide students, teachers, scholars, and practitioners of intermedial performance with a highly practical, thought-provoking resource for critically and creatively engaging with this growing field.

In keeping with its focus on taxonomic methods, this book is extremely well organized and accessible. The first two (coauthored) chapters provide foundational introductions to intermedial performance and taxonomy respectively. Chapter 1, "Texts and Contexts," provides a robust overview of major media-based performance artists and detailed summaries of major scholarly contributions over the last several decades. A richly annotated review of the field's literature, this chapter could stand alone as an invaluable resource for students, teachers, and scholars of intermedial performance. The subsequent chapter on the history of taxonomies, which surveys taxonomic projects from fields such as biology, ecology, anatomy, and sociology, as well as from within performance studies (e.g., Richard Schechner's "Magnitudes of Performance" [1988]), explores the cultural and ideological labor that taxonomies perform. To best serve the dynamic and subjective field of intermedial performance, the authors have designed their own taxonomies as nonhierarchical, "matrixed" systems (think: periodic table of the elements) that can be used to map and expand with diverse and multimodal forms of media-based performance.

The following chapters introduce the three taxonomic methods, each of which has its own organizing principles, critical concerns, and methods of analysis. In the first, Bay-Cheng grounds her taxonomy in the concept of "distortion," through which she measures the effects of recording technologies as deviations from the "original," "undistorted" event. Dodging the [End Page 173] tricky dichotomy of liveness vs. mediatization that this might seem at first to reify, Bay-Cheng smartly maintains that all representation is, in fact, distortion. She establishes a continuum of distortion that has as its poles "material" and "virtual" along which three aspects of performance (space, time, and bodies) can be assessed and graphed. Despite the unavoidably subjective nature of performance analysis, Bay-Cheng's method produces a satisfyingly concrete and visible "profile" of a given performance, as she illustrates with her analysis of recent productions by artists such as Ivo Van Hove and the company Temporary Distortion. This analytical model is particularly well suited for large-scale comparisons; it could be used to compile and compare a range of spectatorial responses to a given performance or a given artist's experiments with distortion over the course of time. To further facilitate distributed comparisons such as these, Bay-Cheng is in the process of creating a mobile app through which users can input their taxonomical analyses and share them with others.

Next, Parker-Starbuck details a taxonomic model based on the cyborg matrix introduced in her book Cyborg Theatre (2011). Mobilizing the two major components of the...


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pp. 173-175
Launched on MUSE
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