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Viral Performance: Contagious Theaters from Modernism to the Digital Age. By Miriam Felton-Dansky. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2018; 256 pp.; illustrations. $99.95 cloth. $39.55 paper, e-book available.
In Viral Performance, Miriam Felton-Dansky develops a dramaturgy of the viral, grounding the contagious spread, now infamous in digital media, in live performance practices from the Living Theatre’s Antonin Artaud–inspired work in the 1960s through early 21st-century theatre-makers and artists. She persuasively argues that the roots of “going viral” can be found in performance practices that have been viral (in the sense of contagious) from the start, and that a dramaturgical lexicon of mimesis, affective transmission, and an expanded view of “communicability” has much to offer contemporary thinking on virality. The book chronologically illustrates this theatrical contagion, but crucially braids case studies across temporal separations, exploring these viral dramaturgies not as theatrical movements, but historicized instances in a far-reaching web of viral practice and theory. Bringing together key focus areas within theatre and performance studies today, the work particularly uses media studies, dramaturgy, art history, and performance studies concepts (though well-explored theories of contagious dance are notably absent) to methodically demonstrate viral practices across over a dozen theatre and performance artists. Felton-Dansky’s experience as a Village Voice critic poetically guides her pointed analysis of a range of artistic works: Artaud’s theories of the Plague and the Living Theatre’s performative disjuncture; forms of audience-involved infection in the work of Marc Estrin, Augusto Boal, and General Idea; an innovative mingling of parafiction with ideas of copying and “germ theater”; and a gesture toward new theatrical ground in the “viral performance network,” seen in mid-2000s works such as The Lysistrata Project. This text breaks important new ground at a key intersection of performance and new media.
Theatre, Social Media, and Meaning Making. By Bree Hadley. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017; 256 pp. $119.99 cloth, e-book available.
Bree Hadley surveys the use of social media in theatre practice, including the activity of audiences, companies, and individual artists in the interactions actively shifting systems of exchange in theatre-making communities. The rapid adoption and spread of social media technologies requires artists and their audiences to adapt to new ways of making and talking about theatre, and this study draws broadly from UK, Australian, and United States examples to note possibilities and challenges for theatre makers. In particular, Hadley concentrates on moments of tension, controversy, or complication between theatre makers and audiences, showing how the two-way communication social media demands pushes boundaries of place, meaning, and [End Page 191] control over artistic work. The book also expands definitions of social media in theatre, moving beyond the limited scope of advertising and promotion to account for the role of conversation with and about theatre making more generally. While the definition is sometimes difficult to pin down, “meaning-making” in this text usefully draws the common goals of spectators, creators, critics, and theatre generally and activates key debates in audience theory toward the context of new media tools. Hadley also consistently calls...