Contextualising liveness: digitally distributed, digitally mediated and digitally located theatre in Edinburgh and Berlin, 2017-2019
‘Liveness’ is a contested and often controversial term within theatre and performance studies. It is commonly used to describe sensations related to immediacy, spontaneity, unrepeatability, and co-presence, and often held in oppositions to ideas of the digital. Previous scholarship has taken a broad approach to understanding and defining liveness, for instance in Philip Auslander’s foundational monograph Liveness (1999), which considers liveness within the Western canon of live performance in general - but this thesis argues that liveness is often culturally and contextually contingent. To do so, it takes a comparative, material, and ethnographic approach, using case studies from Edinburgh and Berlin to reveal increasingly flexible, nuanced, and diverse experiences of liveness within performances that have been shaped by factors including funding landscapes, arts festivals, and hierarchies of cultural value. By focusing on Edinburgh and Berlin, the case studies in this thesis reveal how liveness is created, valued, and marketed differently in two Western European capital cities that have considerably different theatre industries, making the argument for further contextual studies into the phenomenon. These case studies present emerging modes of digitally aided performance that challenge established definitions of liveness within theatre studies and the theatre industry and explore how liveness in performance relates to liveness as it is understood in the broader context of digital media. The thesis develops three key terms – digital distribution, digital mediation, and digital location – in order to differentiate between these emerging modes of performance: digital distribution is used to consider digitally aided modes of distributing and documenting theatre; digital mediation describes performances that use digital tools to mediate the relationship between performer and audience; and digital location examines performances that take place in digital, rather than physical, performance spaces. Collectively, these terms consider the time, place, and space of digitally aided performance to explore how far liveness is a contextual phenomenon.
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