DRA 3907HF: Theatre and Emerging Technologies
This interdisciplinary graduate course explores the collision between the performing arts and recent developments in computational media. Students will be introduced to the activity of BMO Lab, a home for collaborative creative research across the arts and sciences, through workshops emphasizing practical engagement with in-progress tools and ideas, as well as seminar discussions of theoretical and historical writing that inform the Lab’s work. Central themes of investigation will include machine learning, machine vision, artificial intelligence, motion capture, and theatrical control.
In the past, this course has been structured around the Lab as a physical space, and has taken up many technologies that rely on shared copresence. COVID-19 has necessarily shifted the nature of this course: presumably for the full term, students will participate in the course over Zoom. Though we will accordingly discuss Zoom in class, this is not a class in so-called Zoom theatre. Rather, we will work with and against Zoom to pursue performance experiments whose ultimate concern is the material stage, not the LCD screen. There are some technological-performative concepts that we will have to talk about and simulate, but cannot fully execute in a distanced course session; many readings are intended to open up those conversations. That said, this course remains a studio class, and creative participation from all will be central to our success.
BMO Lab and Canadian Stage are currently sponsoring a group of professional theatre artists to pursue experimental performance research and development. From their work this past fall, they are beginning to devise a theatre piece tentatively titled The Father, which will recur as a reference point throughout this class. These artists will be participating in the course; only students will produce writing for assessment.
Jan 11 – Course Introduction
Jan 18 – Zoom
Real-time Zoom manipulation
Shane Denson. “‘Thus isolation is a project.’ Notes toward a Phenomenology of Screen- Mediated Life.”
Guilherme da Silva Machado. “Zoom in on the Face: The Close up at Work.”
Both in Pandemic Media, ed. Philipp Dominik Keidl, Laliv Melamed, Vinzenz Hediger, and Antonio Somaini. Goethe University Frankfurt, 2020.
Jan 25 – What Can a Machine Learn?
Performing a neural net
James Bridle. “Cognition.” New Dark Age.
N. Katherine Hayles. “Nonconscious Cognitions: Humans and Others.” Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Unconscious.
Feb 1 – Computational Writing (I)
Annie Dorsen. “On Algorithmic Theatre.” Theater, 42.2, 2012.
Benjamin H.D. Buchloh. “The Book of the Future: Alison Knowles’s The House of Dust.”
Mainframe Experimentalism, ed. Hannah B. Higgins & Douglas Kahn, UC Press, 2012. Roger Caillois. “Letter to André Breton.” “Pythian Heritage (On the Nature of Poetic Inspiration).” The Edge of Surrealism, ed. and trans. Claudine Frank. Duke UP, 2003.
Feb 8 – Computational Writing (II)
GPT-2 in performance
August Strindberg. “The New Arts! The Role of Chance in Artistic Creation.” Strindberg: Selected Essays, ed. and trans. Michael Robinson. Cambridge UP, 1996 .
John Cage. “Experimental Music.” Silence, ed. Kyle Gann. Wesleyan UP, 2011 [1957/61]. George Bataille. “The Attraction of Gambling.” Guilty, trans. Stuart Kendall. SUNY Press, 2011 .
Feb 22 – Interfacing (I)
Walter Benjamin. “Theater and Radio: The Mutual Control of their Educational Program.”Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol 2, part 2. Trans. Rodney Livingstone. Harvard UP, 1999 .
Samuel Weber. “Theatrocracy; or, Surviving the Break.” Theatricality as Medium, Fordham UP, 2004.
Nick Hunt. “Lighting on the hyperbolic plane: Towards a new approach to controlling light on the theatre stage.” International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 7.2, 2011.
Mar 1 – Interfacing (II)
Peggy Phelan. “The Ontology of Performance.” Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. Routledge, 1993.
Ramon Amaro. “As if.” e-flux. February 14, 2019.
Mar 8 – Motion Capture
Motion-capture – suits and depth cameras
Sally Jane Norman. “Oskar Schlemmer’s Programmatic Gesture Research.” Digital Movement: Essays in Motion Technology and Performance. Ed. Nicolás Salazar Sutil & Sita Popat. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Danielle Goldman. “Ghostcatching: An Intersection of Technology, Labor, and Race.”Dance Research Journal, 35.2, 2004.
Mar 15 – Robots/Actors
Acting as robots
Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan. “Orientalism and Informatics: Alterity from the Chess- Playing Turk to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.” Ex-position, 43, 2020.
Oriza Hirata. “I, Worker.” Trans. Joanna Kriese. “Sayonara.” Trans. Bryerly Long and Hiroko Matsuda. Citizens of Tokyo, ed. M. Cody Poulton. Seagull, 2019.
Mar 22 – AI as Scene Partner
Text generation as dialogue
Lawrence Switzky. “ELIZA Effects: Pygmalion and the Early Development of Artificial Intelligence,” SHAW, 40.1, 2020.
Matthew Seiji Burns. “When You Say One Thing but Mean Your Motherboard.” Logic, 11, 2020.
Matthew Seiji Burns. ELIZA. Videogame, playable on Windows & Macintosh laptops.
Mar 29 – Conclusion (I)
Apr 5 – Conclusion (II)