This research exposition shows a distinctive approach to performer training that uses play testing with an unknown audience as a training method. This training method was developed in order to train performers in participatory and immersive performances to the specific kind of unpredictable impulses that arise from performing with unknown audience members. The exposition aims to reveal the method by transposing discursive knowledge gained from/in/by research in these kinds of performances to an exposition that in its form and manner of presentation would resonate with qualities associated with participatory and immersive performances.
Josephine Machon says ‘immersive theatres combine the act of immersion – being submerged in a medium that is different to our ‘known’ environment and that feels unusual – with a deep involvement in the activity within that medium, where all the senses are engaged and manipulated’ (Machon in Frieze 2017, 29–30).
If we understand participation as taking part in action designed by the artist, there is a bleed between participation and immersion as we can see from above where ‘deep involvement in the activity’ (ibid.) could as well be interpreted as a definition of participation. However, as immersive theatre is exceedingly being used as a term for a genre – something Machon also acknowledges (ibid.) – in this text I’m using both terms ‘participatory’ and ‘immersive’ to highlight different emphases in the terms – especially taking part in action in participation and experiential and multisensorial in immersive – and multiplicity in their entanglement.
Impulse is a starting point in the training system I’m exposing in this exposition. This system is comprised of
- A performing technique which aims to give a performer technical tools to dive deeper into a shared perception between performer, articipant and environment. This conditions the performer to working with impulse in participatory and immersive performances.
- A method of training where play test enables a performer to train in the particular kind of unpredictable impulses that emerge from unknown audiences.
Impulse is a starting point for the central scene (in the original performance of The Real Health Center) as a whole and it’s a seed from which to grow meaning, but it’s also already part of the meaning in itself. Like a seed it’s already also a plant. And like growing a plant, growing needs someone to grow it and it needs a seed, but most of the work is done by the world, by what is already there.
This research exposition shows a distinctive approach to performer training. The research is artistic research. In the theoretical model I’m proposing artistic research is one of the overlapping spheres. In order to understand especially how I’m researching we need to briefly outline how this particular research relates to artistic research as a research orientation. This sphere is not separate from the training system, but the research orientation informs how the system is conceptualized and exposed.
In the heart of the trial of artistic research is an attempt to marry content with form. The focus of the research should be in a sensible relation to the manner of doing research and to the manner it’s shared with other researchers. One of the central questions is the question of how I make sense of my research to others in the research community. At the same time, if artistic research justifies itself as a paradigm that differs from qualitative and quantitative (see f.e. Haseman 2006, 1 and Nelson 2013, 22), it should be able to move beyond the solely discursive as the hegemonic mode of sharing research.
In this second artistic part I have attempted to research with art. I resist using artistic research as an approach to explain art, because I don’t think explanation resonates with the nature of knowledge artistic research is trying to unearth. A research focusing on interaction and embodied processes can’t be answered by discursive means alone in a way that would resonate with the (nature of the) focus of this particular research project.
This is not a new insight, but something many artist-researchers share as Michael Schwab and Henk Borgdorff articulate by saying that ‘The danger is that as the art academy enters academia, art may be subjected to epistemic regimes that are not suitable to, and thus might compromise, the kinds of practices and knowledges in which artists engage’ (Schwab & Borgdorff 2014, 10).
This creates particular challenges for assessment of artistic research. It has been suggested that in artistic research one criteria for assessing whether the exposition is successful is the approach the exposition takes to its epistemic claims in terms of the aesthetics of the exposition. Mika Elo articulates this by saying that ‘exposition (as translation) should be assessed in terms of its relative density, that is, in terms of its resonance with the work. It’s communicative capacity with regard to context is a secondary matter here.’ (Elo in Schwab & Borgdorff 2014, 32)
Elo goes a step further and says ‘The source criticism and contextualization central to scientific research remain secondary matters here. What is under scrutiny is not a corpus (a systematic data collection assembled for the purpose of studying), but a singular, incompletely articulated body (a singular point of reference) in its anticipated knowability.’ (Elo in Schwab & Borgdorff 2014, 34)
In addition to resonance with the work in relation to assessing an exposition, another aspect Elo draws attention to is sensitivity to media. He takes his cue from Marshall McLuhan when he says
Using Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum, ‘The medium is the message’, we could say that the ‘medial turn’ implies the recognition of the medial embeddedness of all forms of communication as well as a certain destabilisation of hierarchical relations between different media or modes of signification. (Elo in Schwab & Borgdorff 2014, 25)
He goes further into questioning the hegemony of verbal language as research when he says
Artistic articulations that are not based on propositional statements can gain the status of research only in a situation where the instrumental supremacy and functionality of the most widely established medium of research – the verbal language – has become questionable. (ibid.)
Resonance and media sensitivity in terms of this particular research mean that there should be a resonance between the mode by which the research is presented and its discursive focus. Resonance doesn’t imply mirroring, but I have made a deliberate choice in terms of the media of this exposition which stems from the quest to find a more embodied point of view which I don’t experience emerging via text only. I will elaborate this in more detail in the next section where I discuss the audiovisual methodology of the research.
Resonance and media sensitivity return us back to the question of marrying content with the form. On a level of the technique and training method I’m proposing this means that like participatory and immersive performances need the input from the audience to exist, this should be taken into account when thinking of not only the structures of participatory and immersive performances, but also the way the technique of the performer opens towards to audience and also how this opening towards the audience is accomplished when training performers in this kind of work.
Part of the audiovisual methodology is the continuous development of this form of exposition. I have developed the mechanisms of choice and the relationship of text to video particularly in two publications before. A multimedia exposition in NIVEL publication (Haapala 2017) tried a structure with a simple web interface combined with as little amount of written words as possible. The blog post in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training blog (Haapala 2018b)in combination with a text in the actual journal (Haapala 2018a) played with three different modes of exposing research: one very personal text written together with an articipant, one text closer to an analytical one and one through the video clips. The blog post still used a very linear structure of a blog post and with the NIVEL publication the main focus in the interface was to create a first version of a non-linear structure with random elements. These approaches have been combined in this exposition and developed further.
Before we dive into the training system I’m proposing, I’ll further detail the context by considering the more precise questions of media by which this research is presented by.
In order for the mode of research to resonate with the focus of the research – and to resonate with the media sensitivity mentioned earlier – I make use of relatively new audiovisual tools in order to both dive deeper into the perception at the heart of the performing technique, to document research and to disseminate it. The aim is to use recording and editing combined with theory in such a way that it exposes resonant aspects of the training method in question. In short, I’m developing an audiovisual methodology by which to research an embodied method of training performers.
The approach to recording aims to give a sense of being inside the training situations in the workshop. This is meant to reflect – to a degree – the feeling of being inside a performance in an immersive performance. This has been an aim of my research since I felt frustration in the first phase of my research of the external single-camera recording not fitting my research context of participation and immersion.
The recording method has thus far developed from a setting with one external and static camera recording the exploration of the researcher as a solitary actor in long shot into the use of an action camera capturing the action from inside the action mostly in medium shot or closeup. Later the recording method developed into a set up of two GoPro action cameras attached to the foreheads of both the performer and the articipant in order to be able to see the interaction from inside the interaction without an external observer affecting the action (as part of the interaction). This development of the recording method coincided with the development of theoretical analysis elaborated in the next chapter (‘Being Organised’).
Working with the Videographer
In this artistic part I have developed the audiovisual methodology by adding an external camera operated by an outside videographer. In addition to having been able to use all of the previously mentioned approaches, the videographer brought their own artistic expertise into this particular artistic work. This created another layer of collaboration and co-creation to the research process – and a layer of openness of which I’ll elaborate more below.
Technically, the videographer was able to record action from outside with various means (both moving hand-held camera and a static one, both regular video camera and the two GoPros). To be precise: The videographer wasn’t employed only to execute a plan that I had set up in advance by myself. This would reflect a process of making a traditional theatre performance in a theatre building using a ready-made script. With participatory and immersive performances the processes of making the performances are often collaborative (see f.e. Warren 2017, 118) so I felt the process with the videographer needed to reflect this manner of working in order to resonate with the focus of the research. We discussed and planned the shooting in as detailed way as possible – still leaving room for the participants (performers) of the workshop to fill in the actual actions. This reflects the relationship of performers and articipants in the actual performance and resonates with performances in which the input from the audience is central for the performance to reach its full form.
We planned the recording with the videographer in order to be able to document the work of the participants in the workshop. The reason we didn’t have the workshop participants (performers) take part in the planning of the recording is because in this instance I felt it would’ve made them aware of the recording in ways that wouldn’t continue the course the research had taken in the first artistic part. I wanted to continue fine-tuning the approach to recording I had started in the first artistic part where the external audience didn’t take part in the documentation process in other ways besides having the GoPro attached to the forehead of selected articipants. This fine-tuning was essential for the process to be able to answer the questions that had been left open in the first artistic part.
The main things we discussed with the videographer were the research questions – both the main research question and the one for this artistic part – and what kind of recording would best resonate with those questions. We carefully went through the workshop plan and discussed where in the forest the exercises would take place. We also discussed what were the most probable points in the exercises where something might happen which would be the most resonant with the research. However, the videographer was also allowed to make his own choices as the exercises unfolded as an independent artist and as an expert of his medium. This followed the principle of openness in relation to collaboration between the researcher and the videographer.
The recording of the outside videographer most of the time resembled that of a nature videographer in him being hidden in the woods observing the action without being himself seen. This approach resonates with the idea of this artistic part focusing in part on the agency of the environment with people being turned into animals by the recording method. The GoPros are attached to the bodies of both the actor and the articipant and because of the range of the app controlling the cameras is limited, it means we always first record everything. These aspects of the recording method don’t take away the power researcher has over the material, but it does bring about the loosening up of that power as it has been shared with another artist (videographer) or given to be recorded according to a fixed angle after which the bodies of the performer and articipant play a part in the decision-making process in terms of what is captured.
One of the main things we discussed after the recording had been done was which approach to editing would best serve the focus of the research and how the clips would combine with the web interface. We discussed the possibilities of one continuous film and the more fragmented approach we finally decided upon. Here openness again played a key role as we both felt separate clips gave more possibilities in combining the material with text and in terms of the structure of the interface. We hoped this openness in relation to other materials to enter into the overall form would enable openness also in terms of the overall interface – in relation to the user of the exposition – and also in relation to the final online thesis where all the material is ultimately planned to be used.
Like in the actual performance, even though the dramaturgy is open-ended and even though I’m emphasizing openness as a central element in the methodology, both the dramaturgy and the methodology are designed by me. I have done the research to enable these particular situations to emerge to find resonance with the particular research questions I have formulated. To use the term from Gareth White from his book investigating audience participation in theatre, both the work done with the videographer, work done with the performers and performers’ work with the articipants fall under my ‘procedural authorship’ (White 2013, 29). Yet there is a paradox. None of the work would exist without corresponding work from others. This is an essential element of participatory and immersive work: it’s carefully designed and yet it needs the very specific people or other articipants to author it, too.
This is the resonance of the work in relation to its audiovisual method. The method is in the openness, in leaving room and creating space, in letting things emerge on their own – in a carefully researched and prepared manner.
Resonance, not Duplication
While I search for resonance of the discursive with the overall form, mode of presentation and dissemination of the research, I’m are searching for resonance – not duplication. Resonance here means the additional aspects in the process create more overtones which will enable us to hear the tone of the research differently. This in my analysis adds to the understanding of the issue at hand in a more nuanced way than duplication, even if duplication would be understood in the sense of transposition.
I’m using resonance as one of my central metaphors as it references a whole (object) consisting not of harmonious parts of a musical composition, but of frequencies which determine f.e. how somethings sounds, its timbre. I also feel its apt because it references other senses than seeing, which dominates proscenium arch performances. This is important for me in the context of this exposition as in its audiovisual material it still rests dominantly on sight.
In relation to recording it means the video is not the performance. This exposition is not solely documentation and even if it were, documentation is not the thing itself. This brings us back to the media sensitivity Elo was discussing earlier (Elo in Schwab & Borgdorff 2014, 25). The pertinent question of a difference between documentation and method relates to what Sumartojo and Pink call the video trace of the GoPro. They mention how ‘such cameras do not so much offer us the possibility to capture the world as it appears in front of the camera lens, but instead record a video trace through the world as created by our movement in specific environmental, sensory and affective configurations’ (Sumartojo and Pink in Cruz, Sumartojo & Pink 2017, 39).
GoPro is here used as a tool to realize a particular audiovisual methodology – not because it is the thing itself, but because it reveals aspects essential to this research. One part of this is the ability to dive into the perception of both performer and articipant while being inside the scene reflecting the sense of immersion in immersive performances. Because of the small size of the camera combined with the intensity of the one-one-one, both the performers and articipants in the performance and workshop of The Real Health Center reported when asked afterwards that they forgot the camera when inside the scene (personal notes). This was also the case with myself when having the camera mounted on me in the performance of The Real Health Center. This suggests that we were able to see to some extent an ‘authentic’ scene as differentiated from a scene performed for the camera. By authentic I here mean the distinction between being aware of the camera and it explicitly affecting the scene and it dissolving into the background of perception. This in my mind once again returns to the question of openness in the sense that the recording is not invasive of the interaction, but is having a porous relationship to the situation.
Sumartojo and Pink continue their analysis via Spinney who discusses ‘mobile video ethnography’ and says ‘movement with’ becomes a way of ‘attuning’ the researcher to the mobile practice in question and in so doing, of facilitating cultural and social empathy’ (Spinney 2015, 237). Thus Spinney links empathetic microlevel movement of the researcher into understanding larger social and cultural frames. The mention opens up an avenue towards how useful tool GoPro can be in relation to microlevel action. Spinney continues that ‘the possibility emerges… of new ways to forge empathic connections through novel modes of representation and knowledge’ (ibid.). This is one important resonance point with my research where microlevel action in terms of performing technique resonates with the mode of capture of the specific tool used to research it and translates into a possibility to (also) analyze larger social and cultural frames from new points of view. All of these resonances of the audiovisual method cluster in the exposition. This cluster of resonances sound why this particular methodology has been chosen and how it relates to knowledge gained in the context of this particular research.
I have now illuminated some aspects of the relationship of the performer training system I’m developing to artistic research as a research orientation and to the audiovisual methodology of this research. In the system of performer training I’m outlining I’m suggesting two approaches to the question of co-creating meaning. One of these draws on the concept of organized activities as theorized by Alva Noë. The other is the method of play testing where the definition of meaning is left to audience. I’m tying these together and linking them to existing performer techniques through the concept of impulse.
In my approach impulse is the tool and concept by which we can extend an essential element and concept of (especially) acting and dance techniques and enable multifarious openness on a microlevel of performing. The focus on the microlevel is essential in order to have the training system pierce all the way to the cellular level even though the main contribution in this system is the use of play testing as training.
Impulse is one of the key terms in both acting and dance. The practitioners who have utilized it are as diverse as Sanford Meisner (Meisner 1987, 36), Michael Chekhov (Chekhov 2002, 7), Eugenio Barba (Barba 1995, 28), Jerzy Grotowski (Grotowski 1984, 16) and Steve Paxton (Paxton 2008, 09:50). In the analysis I link impulse to meaning through shared perceptual experience via Noë’s concept of organized activities. This will shed light on how the technique relates to perception and why Alva Noë’s theories are applicable in the context of participatory and immersive performances. I suggest a reworking of impulse as an element of performer technique so that a performer’s reactions to impulses are not directed at another performer, but to an articipant in order to find seeds of embodied meaning in the articipant’s behavior and in the interaction between performer and articipant. This technique will then find a new field of play in a play test with an unknown audience.
I have chosen impulse as the key term because it’s so widely used in the praxis of an actor’s and dancer’s work. And because it’s only on rare occasions explained. I’m taking impulse as the starting point also because I consider it the smallest particle in performing and as such a valuable tool in finding both precision and openness in relation to form and context. Impulse also sheds seeds on growing the performing technique beyond the ‘human’.
In my research I originally started looking for the smallest element in acting, but if we take acting purely as action and action also including being in the world, the smallest element transposes the discussion to the smallest possible processes which are processes that exist in all life. Using all of the above and linking those with my research on performing I would define impulse in the context of this research as a change in state produced by a force or a stimulus.
Use of Impulse as a Term
I’m using the impulse as a term to try to extend the use of impulse beyond its use (in the context of participatory and immersive performances) so it would be a central tool and concept in a technique that would enable a performer to sense a starting point for a meaning to emerge in the articipant and would enable the further cultivation of that meaning with the aim of working from the point of view of the articipant.
The impulse in the technique can take innumerable forms. You can find one example in a play test of the original performance of The Real Health Center (2016) Time code 00.11.
You can also find my explanation of the impulse at theatredanceperformancetraining.org/2018/05/forest-of-impulses/ where I explain how the impulse is later developed into a clear meaning in that specific play test.
At the moment my practical research in relation to performing is influenced by Meisner technique and improvisation techniques of postmodern dance combined with new conceptualization of performance opened up by live art and performance art. Meisner technique is part of my training as an actor creating part of my personal artistic history and context, but I also feel it’s applicable because it focuses on action and reaction (see f.e. Meisner 1987, 34). Even though I’m focusing on acting in my contextualization of this artistic part – as I feel that to be the most relevant with the closest ties to impulse as a concept – , postmodern dance and its improvisation techniques (including contact improvisation) create one layer in the overall research especially in relation to the somatic.
Even though some of my starting points are in postmodern dance and Meisner technique, my use of them differs from the usual contexts of these techniques. On one hand the way I use impulse is not tied to given circumstances of a scene as in Meisner technique (Meisner 1987, 128) and on the other hand it’s not tied to the specific context of postmodern dance (in relation to contact improvisation, see Novack 1990, 192).
In terms of new performance concepts, in Finland ‘esitystaide’ has been central in opening these new avenues. Esitystaide translates as ‘performance art’, but paradoxically doesn’t mean the same as performance art. Esitystaide has emerged in Finland at roughly the same time as immersive theatre in the UK, but I would characterize it as differing from immersive theatre in esitystaide often having fairly conceptual and abstract starting points – like ‘what is a performance’ (www.eskus.fi/esitystaide) – when immersive theatre in UK seem to be more centered around experience (Machon in Frieze 2017, 29).
Impulse as a technical term is linked intimately with the work of a performer. In the workshop of The Real Health Center I didn’t use impulse as an explicit term when leading the exercises (exercise through line) as I found that in relation to these specific participants of the workshop it wasn’t useful. I instructed the workshop participants in terms of senses, precision and action, because these brought about the sensitivity and precision I was looking for to the extent possible in the context of this particular workshop. Still, in relation to the historical context of performer techniques where impulse as a term is coming from and my aim at growing it beyond this context, impulse plays a central part both in relation to these specific historical techniques and the further conceptualization of impulse. Thus it also played a part in the workshop in the sense that impulse and their work is what I’m constantly following and guiding in the exercises regardless of whether the term has been used in the explicit instructions for the workshop participants (performers) in any specific exercise.
The impulse is a starting point in a scene that forms the source material for the workshop of The Real Health Center. The impulse is a starting point in the sense that from a physical impulse the actor develops a scene together with the articipant. After this moment the scene follows the open-ended dramaturgy of a doctor’s appointment (Score for the ‘Scene with the Doctor’) but instead of searching for a diagnosis – as in the dramaturgy of a ‘real’ doctor’s appointment – it searches for a meaning.
In the scene my aim is to take the impulse and develop it the way it needs to be developed. By need I mean in this instance what is the most important meaning the articipant lets emerge. This way the starting point for the work of the actor is the physicality of the articipant, not the physicality of the actor as is the case in more traditional approaches (see f.e. Meisner 1987 and Chekhov 2002, 7). Of course this is a paradox as the performer is sensing the starting point through his/her/their bodily situation. With the simultaneous event of the performer perceiving an impulse of the articipant and the articipant focusing on his/her/their impulse through the focus of the performer, we achieve access to a shared perceptual experience in the manner theorized by Alva Noë.
One of the ways in which the co-creation of meaning happens in the technique I’m developing in my research is by connecting it to shared perceptual experience. In this I apply Alva Noë’s thoughts about perception as sharing the situation with what you perceive.
One of the reasons Noë is applicable to immersive performances emerges when he talks about how perception is not a representation, not a thing to be seen in the viewing screen in the mind (Noë 2012, 3). By analogy it could be added that it’s not a stage seen through a proscenium arch. Perception is not something we see from a distance. It is active participation in the world as are participatory and immersive performances.
In Noë’s book ’Varieties of Presence’ from 2012 he explains
We achieve the world by enacting ourselves. Insofar as we achieve access to the world, we also achieve ourselves. (Noë 2012, 13) (emphasis original)
Noë is not talking about performing technique per se, but about the nature of presence and about the nature of perception which we usually often think of ’just happening’. What I’m aiming to develop in my approach to performer’s technique is that it would double this process where we already are embedded in in order to make known those processes that we take for granted – that is to say perception and how it connects to meaning via Noë’s concept of organized activities. I’m trying not to copy how Noë thinks perception emerges, but to find a way to reveal how perception connects to organized activities and by using the extra lens of performance I’m testing how to put under a microscope the process of perception happening.
By organized activity Noë means activities which are
‘primitive’ and ‘natural’; they are arenas for the exercise of attention, looking, listening, doing, undergoing; they exhibit structure in time; they are emergent and are not governed by the deliberate control of any individual; they have a function, whether social or biological or personal. And they are (at least potentially) pleasurable. (Noë 2015, 5–6)
‘Organized activities’ are valuable in understanding the doubling of perception we’re playing with. One of the reasons is that ‘Art aims at the disclosure of ourselves to ourselves and so it aims at giving us opportunities to catch ourselves in the act of achieving perceptual consciousness – including aesthetic consciousness – of the world around us.’ (Noë 2015, 71). This is what happens in the scene with the doctor in the original performance of The Real Health Center and this is what we applied in the workshop of The Real Health Center. Actually, we are tripling perception. First, there is the level of perception that is always at play. Then the level of art in the way Noë elaborated above. Then there is the level of a specific technique that aims to make these conscious tools of performing in participatory and immersive performances. For this research, I will draw mostly on the first and third interpretation of Noë’s thinking.
In order to be able to have perceptual consciousness we need sensorimotor knowledge.
Noë clarifies what he means by sensorimotor understanding (20):
My emphasis here is on a special kind of understanding that distinctively underwrites our perceptual access to objects and properties, namely, sensorimotor understanding. We can see what there is when it is there, and what makes it the case that it is there is the fact that we comprehend its sensorimotor significance. Sensorimotor understanding brings the world into focus for perceptual consciousness. (Noë 2015, 20)
Sensorimotor understanding brings the world to a focus. And by the same process we come into focus ourselves. A continuous loop of perception starts and this is why there is no starting or ending even though we at times need to phrase it so in order to clarify the theory. In practice we dive into it constantly.
Important part of the discussion in relation to perception in participatory and immersive performances is the meaning of movement in relation to perception, and especially self-actuated movement. Noë points out how ‘Only through self-movement can one test and so learn the relevant patterns of sensorimotor dependence.’ (Noë 2004, 13) (emphasis original). This suggests that movement inside the performance gives a closer access to how perception is constructed than performances which are based on a model of a seated audience.
This gives these kinds of performances a possibility to tap into perception and as I’ll elaborate below, a possibility to disrupt organized activities.
Noë mentions how organized activities are not governed by deliberate control of an individual (Noë 2015, 6), but also mentions how it could theoretically be possible to ‘disrupt the organization of the activity by intervening, if you knew how, in the nervous system of one of the actors’ (Noë 2015, 8). This is what performing in participatory and immersive performances could do: they could tap into and disrupt organized activities. They can both use existing patterns of organized activities and create new constellations of those activities not based on habit. This is the very microlevel of the technique in question here: the precision in the technique – in relation to action and sensing – is needed for it to be able to tap into the density and microscopic order of organized activities in us. This precision can trigger existing organized activities and rearrange them. In the technique we’re discussing this needs to come from within the articipant which is what makes it at the same time personal and biological – connecting organization to organism (Noë 2015, 6).
In his analysis Noë uses the example of breast-feeding as an organized activity and makes a point how the activity itself organizes mother and child, not either of them by themselves. Even though in this instance Noë is focusing on human relationships, I think the concept can be extended beyond human to fit my approach to technique as flow of impulses between performer, articipant and environment.
This way of activities organizing the performer, the articipant and the environment into a whole comes apparent in the video ‘Scene with the Doctor’ when the performer and the articipant are discussing their own personal roots while sitting in front of huge uprooted roots. Environment sends them the impulses in the form of roots which transform into a personal discussion about one’s own roots (starting at 04.27). Time code 04.27 In the end this delicate discussion turns into playing with the situation of a therapeutist’s session when the performer asks the articipant ‘do you have a problematic relationship with your mother?’ (at 06.55) Time code 06.55 This therapeutist’s session is the culmination of what I would call an organized activity emerging and how the performer makes use of this possibility through a combination of technical precision and openness. All of these help the articipant to let emerge something meaningful for them (personal notes) in a supported and playful manner.
This interplay of performer, articipant and environment comes apparent also in Noë’s understanding of sensorimotor knowledge and further connects it with my analysis of how impulse links us to the environment when he says ‘sensorimotor knowledge of the way sensory stimulation varies as we move; it is knowledge that we share with nonlinguistic creatures’ (Noë 2012, 69). He later continues this line of thinking in relation to experience by saying ‘It is precisely the aesthetic character of experience – that it is performed in dynamic exchange with the world around us – that brings this fact about our mutual nature into focus’ (Noë 2012, 133). Here it’s possible to hear how this resonates with the doubling of perception in my research as we are performing an experience between performer, articipant and environment in a constant dynamic interplay.
Moving in relation to the world makes perception possible. In relation to participatory and immersive performances with an aim to work from the articipant onwards, it can be noted that the others also move in relation to us. And if we include environment with an agency of its own in line with the post-humanist discourse, the environment moves constantly, too. This manifold dance of points of views is essential to keep in mind as there is a danger that even though we are aiming to dive deeper into one point of view – also in the sense of using the GoPro as a recording and research device which enhances this particular sense of the point of view – this point of view is not a conclusion. A further aim is to capture a multitude of points of view at play simultaneously and let multiplicity emerge.
You can see early examples of this in the video clip ‘Attack & Walk’. In this short clip you can see the phase six of the exercise through line. In ‘Attack & Walk’ you can see an example of the multiplicity I’m working towards in the sense that the same video includes two sets of actions stemming from same instructions captured with both regular video camera and the GoPro. These are then edited into a constellation with an aim to show this particular phase in the exercise allowing comparative audiovisual analysis Attack & Walk
Emergence of Meaning
How does meaning emerge? In the Scene with the Doctor Time code 04.27 it emerges from the simultaneous event of letting things be as they are and focusing on what emerges as meaningful. I don’t believe one can manufacture meaning. One can pay attention for the meaning to emerge of itself and in this instance we’re paying special attention to how it emerges through organized activities. Noë talks about this when discussing about people talking and how the speakers are not in charge, but create one ‘dynamical system’ (Noë 2015, 217):
Which does not mean that we can’t speak of intelligence here. But it’s the intelligence of letting things happen, of letting the situation organize you, rather than the intelligence of deliberation and rational agency. (ibid.)(emphasis original)
This is again exemplified in the Scene with the Doctor. Time code 04.27 The performer here lets the discussion organize itself – this is the specific skill of letting the situation organize itself. This letting the situation organize you into itself requires precision, because the precision triggers the situation also for the articipant. It requires precision on a perceptual level to notice deeply what is important for the articipant and help them let it emerge – if the articipant lets it.
In participatory and immersive performances meaning in the context of this reflection arises from a shared perceptual experience in the manner that can be analyzed through Noë using his concept of organized activities. This approach to performing is about how to trigger access to organized activities leading to a shared perceptual experience for the articipant from the point of view of the articipant’s own specific style of perception. The context may be very structured and designed or in this particular instance stem from a very open form of shared perception. The particular form I’m talking about here in relation to the performance of The Real Health Center is not about presenting a certain story or theme for the audience to watch. It’s not immersive in the sense of creating a specific world for the spectator to experience.
Of course, open-endedness always has limits. Here it’s an open-ended score. Time code 04.27 Even though the score aimed to create a situation that would be as free in outcome as possible, the whole performance situation here is still designed by me. In that sense I have ‘procedural authorship’ (White 2013, 31) also in the context of the whole performance. The framing of the whole performance, what had happened just before in the course of the performance and how the scene itself was framed, created a particular set of circumstances that limited what’s ultimately possible for the articipant in the scene
However, in its open-endedness it still managed to bring out very variable forms of action and enabled to create a short 20 minute laboratory inside the overall performance. This laboratory was where the focus of the microscope was aimed at in the performance of The Real Health Center. In the context of this second artistic part it’s not possible to totally open up the framing of the whole performance of The Real Health Center, but these glimpses into the framing are provided to give access how that framing related to the way the exercises for the workshop in turn were developed. This open-endedness is central in how this reflection links with the training method at the core of this exposition. The use of the play test in training performers allows the creation of an open-ended method where the forms and definitions in a participatory and immersive context are opened as much as possible for the audience to affect the outcome – all the way to the level of training performer’s technique. And like the open-ended score in the performance of The Real Health Center, also the play test in the workshop of The Real Health Center ultimately has limits to its openness, but it does open it towards the audience in ways not usual in workshops training performers for participatory and immersive performances.
In this approach the starting point – for the creation of meaning – would be the articipant in a way that is designed to let co-created meaning emerge. And through the lens of a microscope – which is performance – it’s designed to give rise to a question of what does a co-created meaning mean.
This is the theoretical model I’m proposing in relation to the technique I’m developing. The model has several overlapping spheres: The sphere of artistic research as a discipline, the sphere of audiovisual methodology, theory of organized activities from Alva Noë, the historical context of performing in participatory and immersive performances and the artistic work. These are not separable areas – we are listening for a cluster of resonances. The model – the image – of a sphere is to help to understand the various logics at play
Instructions for the audience before the scene with the doctor
Performing in Participatory and Immersive Performances
The training method exposed in this exposition is being developed in order to train performers in participatory and immersive performances to the specific kind of unpredictable impulses that arise from performing with unknown audience members. Performing is understood in this context in a manner that encompasses approaches traditionally classified into disciplines of acting, dance and live/performance art. It must be added that even though it’s necessary to be aware of these disciplinary traditions, these lines have become markedly blurred. It’s worth considering carefully when appreciating the disciplinary boundaries helps to clarify the analysis and when the focus needs to be constructed in other ways that reflect more truthfully the current landscape of performing in its multiplicity. In this particular exposition I have decided to mostly focus on acting and a few of its histories and contexts for the sake of clarity of focus as acting is for me the discipline historically most closely tied with the concept of impulse.
State of the Art
In this chapter I’ll further clarify the context by briefly outlining some of the approaches to performing that have touched upon performing in participatory and immersive performances and elaborate how they relate to my own research. I will mention three sources as particular starting points for the discussion.
Talking About Immersive Theatre podcast is led by Dr. Joanna Bucknall. Bucknall is a researcher as well as a maker of immersive performances with a background in live art. She discusses in her podcast some skills that she sees as central to performing in immersive performances, but also mentions that there’s really no training for this kind of work and how she also thinks you can’t really learn performing for this kind of work (Bucknall 2018, 26.00). I obviously disagree on this and at the same time I think it proves my research has its place as performing in participatory and immersive performances is not seen as being something capable of being trained even by experienced practitioners.
Historically, there has been research about interaction between performers and audience in a general sense (see f.e. Schechner 1994, xxiv). By this I mean research that explicitly discusses dramaturgy, structures and general approaches to the questions of the relationships of performers and audience. Instead of focusing on this research, I suggest there is a gap in research in relation to the microlevel details of performing in participatory and immersive performances. This has also been noted elsewhere, especially in the special issue of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 9.2. (Edinborough 2018, 139)
Theatre, Dance and Performance Training special issue 9.2. focuses on training for immersive, interactive and participatory theatre. It’s a collection of writings from several authors with a contribution also from myself. Many of the writers voice concerns very familiar from years of my own practice in making interactive, participatory and immersive performances. There are also references to other performing techniques and how they could be applied to working in interactive, immersive and participatory work. The authors deal with a wide range of approaches and techniques, both historical and ones they have developed themselves, but I still find myself missing the very microlevel detailing of performing technique. None of the writers mention the use of play testing as a training method.
In Jerzy Grotowski’s work his research phase of paratheatre (1969–1978) (Schechner & Wolford 2001, 207–280) is the one I feel most resonant to my own research. Leszek Kolodziejczyk says in On the Road to Active Culture:
It is, on the other hand, a cycle of meetings between people who do not know one another at first, but gradually upon getting accustomed to one another, rid themselves of mutual fears and distrust; this, in the course of time, causes them to release in themselves the simplest, most elementary inter-human expression. (Kolankiewicz 1978, 8)
Even though there are significant differences between Grotowski’s work and my own, I feel this phase of Grotowski’s research gives context and inspiration for performing in participatory and immersive performances. However, with the phase of paratheatre – as exemplified above – the transition was from an audience member into member of the working group, not audience members as articipants in a play test in order to develop performer’s technique. Thus both the context and aim of the work differ from the focus of my research.
Beyond literature, there are current and live discussions about performing in participatory and immersive performance online. I will pick two podcasts to add to the discussion. The No Proscenium Podcast led by Noah Nelson and Talking About Immersive Theatre podcast led by Dr. Joanna Bucknall I mentioned in the beginning are both excellent sources and excellent in their differences. In The No Proscenium Podcast many of the interviewees talk about performing in immersive performances. The podcast brings into relief different backgrounds of different makers: Carlo D’Amore has a background in acting and says how actors blossom in this kind of work because ‘they are inches from the audience’ (Nelson 2018b, 34.00). He also talks about how acting in immersive performances is improvising with people who don’t know improvisation (Nelson 2018b, 39.00). Bryan Bishop talks about social psychology and how the performers in the experience he had were able to create a scene around that particular person (Nelson 2018, 15.00).
In The No Proscenium Podcast there are several who talk about how central dance has been for the immersive form. Tom Pearson from Third Rail Projects discusses their background as a dance group (Nelson 2019b, 08.05). One of the members of audience even describes immersive as the ‘the best trick modern dance has played on the audience’ (Nelson 2019, 19.00). The No Proscenium Podcast is based on light interviews so many of these are passing reflections, but they are nevertheless important in showing the variety of approaches makers are utilizing and how those are received by participants – even though the participants in the context of this podcast are mostly experts in some sense. Even though the approaches vary a lot throughout the 207 episodes (by 26.7.2019), they mostly circle around narrative which seems to be very dominant in the immersive form in the US which is geographically the main focus of The No Proscenium Podcast.
As The No Proscenium Podcast is tied to narrative and Talking About Immersive Theatre doesn’t believe these skills can be learned, these sources won’t answer to the specifics of performing in participatory and immersive performances – at least not in a systematic way. Of course, this might be too much to ask from a selection of interviews. These podcasts are immensely valuable, but for other reasons.
From Schechner to Theatre, Dance and Performance Training
Richard Schechner discusses interaction a lot in his seminal book Environmental Theatre, but the specifics of performing is mostly left out. Even so, already in Environmental Theatre Schechner talks about how scarce is research done on the exchange of roles of performers and audiences and how ‘orthodox theater in the west uses a thin fraction of the enormous range of audience-performer interactions’ (Schechner 1994, xxiv). Environmental Theatre is an important reference point for participatory and immersive work, because it’s often cited as the pioneer, but it also frequently discusses the problems that arose because of participation. Perhaps these problems ultimately led Schechner to conclude that participation happens where the performance breaks down (Schechner 1994, 45).
This contrasts with my own research. Even though I do think that the social comes into play in these instances – as does Schechner (ibid.) – I don’t think we need to consider it breaking down the performance. In the context of my approach to a training system everything that happens in a performance is material of/for that performance, also it breaking down. In the instance of the performance of The Real Health Center we worked in this manner. Everything that happened with the articipant in a scene with the doctor was material for the meaning to emerge – whether the material is addressing the fact that this is a performance or in the instance of a performance that happens for a large part in a forest, the fact that some articipants really didn’t like forests. Of course, this raises the question of boundaries in participatory and immersive performances, but discussing boundaries is beyond the scope of this research. I will return to them in the next phase of my research when discussing consent.
This approach to everything being material links with the practice of performance art and live art in the sense that we are working also with ‘real’ things – not only ‘fiction’, ‘narrative’, ‘drama’ or even ‘performance’ (for the division of theatre and performance art in terms of ‘fake’ and ‘real’, see Marina Abramovic in O’Hagan 2010). At the same time, in my approach I’m not ruling out ‘fake’ or making a judgement about it. We can use all of these modes of being and performing to the benefit of the performance. By this I mean that for my approach, it doesn’t drastically change the nature of the performance – in the sense Abramovic is discussing it – whether something is perceived as ‘real’ or ‘fake’. It is always material of/for the performance that can be used to search for co-created meaning. And yet, this very inclusion of everything is part of the system. I would even venture to say it adds to the immersion in the sense that there is nothing outside the performance.
This augments the practice of performance art and live art in a similar manner that Campbell Edinborough is talking about in his contribution to the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training special issue 9.2 (Edinborough 2018, 176). Edinborough explains how in the context of one of his performances he used techniques derived from Stanislavski in order to be himself, not a character and how this posits seemingly traditional technique in a context of contemporary performance. Edinborough says how especially the techniques of Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg were helpful for him in trying to be himself in a non-diegetic and non-representational context of his work (Edinborough 2018, 185). He sums up his ‘micro-conclusions’ by referencing Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg and elaborating ‘I used their techniques to find ways of feeling like myself in the multi-layered context of performance’ (Edinborough 2018, 187).
My approach differs from Edinborough’s in the sense that I question both the traditional theatrical thinking in terms of character and the (also already traditional) thinking in live and performance art of the ‘real’ as mentioned above. I consider both of these as performative strategies. Being ‘myself’ or ‘real’ are for my approach similar to naturalism in style in the sense that it’s something we perform. In my approach being ‘myself’ is not more or less real than any other version I perform in ‘real’ life or in a performance. I don’t subscribe to the notion of one real self. In that sense I don’t subscribe to the meaning of ‘myself’ in the sense Edinborough seems to be using it.One example of how this comes about in the workshop is in the ‘Scene with the Doctor’ when the performer and the articipant are discussing roots in several senses. Time code 04.27
In this instance the performer and the articipant are having a discussion seemingly as ‘themselves’, but there is a strong sense of subtext and play present throughout the discussion from both parties. They are being themselves in the sense that there are no explicit characters, but at the same time you can feel how they are also playing with subtext and the possibilities it’s offering for characters and recognizable real-life situations. I would say that they are playing with various notions of ‘real’ in the sense that the question of whether we are talking about ‘real’ things from our lives or playing with pretense in the sense of performance is hanging in the air allowing for reflection from several points of view simultaneously.
I will briefly highlight the differences in my approach to a few of those in the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training special issue 9.2. in order to further clarify my approach and to clarify the context of this discussion.
Many of the writers voice concerns very familiar from years of my own practice in making interactive, participatory and immersive performances. Frances Barbe mentions that ‘in this kind of work there is a need to perform and yet not perform, to have detailed and nuanced character and yet also to not act or at least to appear less actor-like’ (Barbe & Newman 2018, 277). Even though I wouldn’t limit the work to work with characters, I recognize this paradox which highlights how the earlier techniques have started to look false in new performance contexts – false here meaning in a way that doesn’t serve these emerging performance contexts.
There are also references to other techniques in the special issue and how they could be applied to working in interactive, immersive and participatory work. One insightful contribution is from Rebecca Savory Fuller whose text deals mostly with the challenges of combining the dual roles of ‘Architect’ and ‘Clown’ in devising by which she means the director-dramaturge and performer, respectively (Fuller 2018, 234–250). By clown she doesn’t mean clown techniques as such even though she mentions ‘foundational clown techniques focused on audience contact’ as one springboard from which in her teaching she went further into her main focus on ‘extended the audience contact work into directly engaging and facilitating audiences’ (Fuller 2018, 244) which is also my main concern in this exposition.
Many of the writers deal with a wide range of approaches and techniques, both historical and ones they have developed themselves, but I still find myself missing the microlevel detailing. Perhaps one that comes closest to discussing what I mean by microlevel is when Deborah Middleton and Nicolás Núñez discuss the use of the gaze aiming for 360 degree vision in their ‘Sea Action’. Their work is drawing on Grotowski’s research in its Theatre of Sources period (Middleton & Núñez 2018, 217). However, the conclusions they draw move in other direction than mine. They discuss how ‘stilling the movement of the eyes is considered to be helpful technique for settling the mind’ and continue by briefly describing its use in yoga asanas (Middleton & Núñez 2018, 222). I understand the aim of the technique and how they apply it in their work – also through my personal yoga practice of 22 years –, but in my own technique there is no need to still the gaze in order to get to a more enhanced mode of perception. The aim is to be able to understand multiplicity in how the gaze is related to perception and meaning. Stilling the gaze and finding meaning in that way is one of those ways of constituting meaning all the way from the microlevel to – especially in the case of yoga – to the level of spirituality and cosmos.
I contributed one text to the journal and in that contribution you can find one approach to specificity in the form of a text where I try to describe in as detailed manner as possible all the minute decisions a performer does in a participatory and immersive scene (Haapala 2018a, 286–288). I also contributed a blog post to the same issue combining several edited videoclips interspersed with reflection. These aim to show the specificity in relation to how the focus of the performer and their action create space for the meaning of the articipant to emerge (Haapala 2018b).
The Theatre, Dance and Performance Training special issue also works as a good example of how play tests are used extremely rarely as part of the training for immersive, interactive and participatory performances. The term is not mentioned in the issue at all even though it’s widely in use among practitioners (for references, see the section ‘Play Test as a Training Method’ further below). Only one who explicitly mentions using audiences as part of the training is Karen Quigley who mentions it as part of improvising with incidental audiences in site-specific work (Quigley 2018, 251). Considering that this special issue specifically focuses on training in immersive, interactive and participatory performances and it doesn’t mention the use of play tests is clear evidence that play tests are not systematically used in training.
In addition to the meetings of people mentioned in the quote at the start of this section when I introduced Grotowski into the discussion, the natural environment was central to the paratheater phase in Grotowski’s research. Meeting and the environment are the elements that line this phase in Grotowski’s research with mine, but there are also significant differences. Seclusion in a natural environment was central to paratheatre (Schechner & Wolford 2001, 210). In the instance of the performance of The Real Health Center the forest is not presented as a better environment than any other environment if we look at the placing of the environment in relation to what role it’s playing in the overall artistic strategy. In the performance of The Real Health Center the forest is an agent of its own, it’s an environment fitting the theme of the performance and it has particular biological and medical functions in relation to that particular performance.
However, this is one performance. Natural environment is not presented as a universal solution as per the system I’m developing. Other performances need to consider the environment according to the needs of those specific artworks. What matters is the understanding how the environment is always part of any performance situation and thus also part of the performing in those environments.
Schechner mentions how Grotowski spoke about the death of theatre and performance and how paratheatre was a step beyond these (ibid.). I don’t subscribe to the dichotomy of genuine vs. performance which also seem to reflect the ‘purity’ of ‘nature’ vs. ‘falseness’ of ‘society’ (Schechner & Wolford 2001, 210). In my thinking these are all possible contexts for being and performing in relation to my approach to a training system. In the instance of The Real Health Center we are in the context of a performance, but my approach could be used in a totally different context and still have validity. It could be used in a situation where other people are not informed about the context being a performance. The separation of art and life doesn’t play a deciding role in the system I’m developing. Everything can be used as material for co-creation whether it’s seen as ‘real’, ‘false’ or ‘performance’.
In the context of paratheatre, one of the subgroups was working under Jacek Zmyslowski. His work illuminates further the dichotomy of real/performance and clarifies the difference to my own work. In The Grotowski Sourcebook Francois Kahn talks about how in their approach there was a return ‘to this situation of interhuman relations stripped of everything that is aesthetic (but I don’t say deprived of beauty)’ (Schechner & Wolford 2001, 230). In paratheatre and I would say also elsewhere in Grotowski’s work, there is an essentialism at play. The search is for the ‘stripped’ (ibid.) or the ’simple as we are’ (Schechner & Wolford 2001, 240). In my approach, even though there is a search for the meaning, it can emerge through aesthetic means, too. Any aesthetic choice is a possible route to a co-created meaning – both a very stripped and bare one and an extremely stylized one. Health in The Real Health Center
Even though meeting is central in paratheatre, The Grotowski Sourcebook mostly leaves the microlevel details of performing in this phase out. This is peculiar when the work of the performer is often mentioned as the nexus of all of Grotowski’s research. To be fair, there is a lot of poetic descriptions of the work of the performer, but how these were realized in concrete detail doesn’t reveal itself in the texts. Some details do emerge. One of them was that no verbal communication was used (Schechner & Wolford 2001, 227). This often creates an atmosphere of mystery and is used in many immersive performances this day, too (f.e. Punchdrunk forbids the audiences to speak during their large-scale masked shows). In my approach speech can be used. Once again, it’s one level of communication and as such a possible channel in the search for meaning
Both in the rehearsals for the performance of The Real Health Center and in the workshop of The Real Health Center, it can be seen how the absence of speech creates a tangible atmosphere and as such can be a strong tool in the search for meaning Lullaby for a Fern.
In this clip you can hear the description in the beginning as are the instructions for this specific phase in the exercise through line. After this the performer does an action without words, only singing a kind of lullaby. This creates a strong sense of mystery or at least a question in the air, which comes from the precision of the action, but also from lack of words and speech.
At the same time it can turn into an effect or a habit. In The Real Health Center we opted for paying close attention to how speech was used. If the articipant opened speech as a channel, we responded, but if the speech veered into territory we felt was not deepening the search for meaning, we could suggest other means of communication.
Speech sometimes seemed to stay on an everyday level in a way that ignored possibilities for more important subjects. Of course, this evaluation of what’s ‘important’ is very much up to the performer helping in the process, but this is one of the central aspects of the system we’re talking about: how we try to sense what is important and important in a way that it is something the articipant wants to let emerge. We avoid pushing the articipant into a subject matter and action they don’t want to go into, but at the same time try to create a situation where they would feel safe to go to those if they want to. This has a lot to do with definitions of consent, which I’m leaving out from this exposition as I’m focusing on those in detail in the next phase of my research. At this point the main focus is on opening up a few of the ways we approached speech in the interactions both in the performance and in the workshop of The Real Health Center.
There is one tendency we noticed in the articipants both in the performance and in the workshop of The Real Health Center. Important things often come in a subordinate clause. People don’t put the most important things in plain sight and answer them right away, but they might say them offhand and like it’s nothing important. It seems those things are often too important to put in a spotlight. This asks for careful listening on the part of the performer so those things won’t be missed. I think this listening can be seen in the video of ‘Scene with the Doctor’ when the performer is asking the articipant about their roots and does she like them. Time code 04.27
Here after the performer has asked the articipant about their roots, she further asks whether the articipant likes them. The articipant diverts the discussion into the blueberries they are eating, but the performer makes a clear and gentle decision to shift the focus back to the roots. This ultimately leads to a deep, but also light personal discussion about the articipant’s relationship to their mother. In this exchange you can see sensing and listening on the part of the performer and it feels there is room in the discussion for the articipant to say no if they’d feel it too invasive.
Of course, one of the most important choices in relation to speech is whether to use it at all. Once again the question is about the multiplicity of impulses and choosing the most important one. If speech is what triggers impulses towards a one that could trigger deeper meaning, then we can use words as tools to focus the search. If the words obstruct or evade what could be more important, it’s possible for the performer to suggest searching through other means.
In the score for the performance of The Real Health Center we had a few different layers: One layer is that we start from the focus of the articipant (what are they paying attention to) and try to develop the meaning with them through their impulses. The other layer was that if they don’t initiate speech, we don’t either. This seemed to flow more subtly from their earlier solitary existence in the forest before the meeting as almost none of the articipants were speaking when alone. We kept this approach also in the workshop in question in this exposition Scene with the Doctor In this video you can see how the performer steers clear of words in the beginning of the clip and only uses them later when they begin to form into the direction that lets emerge a meaning.
It might be easy to make the mistake of my method aiming for new universalism when it tries to encompass both acting, dance and live/performance art. I’m not trying to create a universal system. However, I’m trying to create a technique and a training method which would respond to audiences in ways that resonate with the nature of participatory and immersive performances.
In this section I have gone through sources that I see as being the most relevant for performing in participatory and immersive performances in relation to my research. As we are touching disciplines of both acting, dance and live/performance art, going through all of them would not be fruitful. Here I have tried to limit my focus mostly to approaches touching upon acting in participatory and immersive performances. This choice hopefully gives a sense of the context where I set my own approach in the coming paragraphs.
At one point in the research process I was puzzled as to how to exactly show the way environment is affecting the perception of all the articipants – which are a part of said environment – in the workshop. At the same time I was in a middle of a logistical labyrinth trying to organize a way to train in a forest while experiencing heavy rain. The way environment affects everything we do left me in a situation where I couldn’t see the trees for the wood.
The purpose of the exercise at the heart of the exercise through line is to start from a perception that is inextricably interlinked with the environment and directed towards it. This perception is then divided between two people (in addition to the environment). The aim is to start with a precise perception and from the very start be specific with the sensing of the articipant and the environment.
In this exercise environment holds a key position. The perception is from the very start in relation to the environment of which it’s also a part. The environment is a starting point for the action, but it is also the very conditions enabling perception and action in the first place. Without the environment there couldn’t be any part of the action.
The way I anticipated the way environment would affect the creation of meaning can be seen in the Scene with the Doctor. The performer and the articipant start the scene with action without words when the performer comes in to meet the articipant with pieces of wood. They continue playing with the pieces of wood and at one point almost put them in a hole in a stump of a tree. In the end of that scene – and the video clip – they end up talking about roots Time code 04.27 while sitting in front of a huge fallen tree with its roots uprooted violently. The articipant talks about her roots having clearly a conflicted – but also amused – relationship to them while the performer asks whether she has a conflicted relationship with her mother. In the scene the physical relationship of these two to the environment turns into a very personal meaning through a co-creation of meaning between actor, articipant and the environment.
Impulse as Technique of the Body Beyond the Body
Impulse gives us a possibility to link the seemingly different entities of performer, articipant and environment. This section of the text is – for the most part – based on much lighter sources and is presented here as a thought experiment on how far the concept and tool of impulse could take us.
Regardless of vast research on posthuman performance, performer processes are still mostly constructed from a human body. This lack of posthuman perspectives in performer training has been brought up f.e. by Frank Camilleri who mentions that ‘Despite the burgeoning interest in perspectival approaches that consider human-non-human relations, this is only just penetrating the antechamber of performer processes’. (Camilleri 2019, 20) By the conceptualization of a particular kind of neurological processes as the norm for embodiment in performing arts we end up in a very human-centered definitions of perception. Impulse as a central element of a technique and as a concept gives possibilities in extending technique as emerging in a bodily situation, but moving beyond the body.
The concept of impulse unearths a seed that grows beyond the human, beyond the body and beyond the performing arts. Impulse is not a concept used solely in performing arts, but also for example in medicine (McComas 2011, xxii). I will briefly visit biology to grow the budding shoots beyond human to link the performer and the articipant to environment.
’All spontaneous animal-motion is performed by mechanical impulse.’, said Samuel Clarke in his correspondence with Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz in 1715 (Leibniz & Clarke 1998, 51). To put it simply, as impulse happens in nerve fibers, this also applies to nerve fibers in animals. Impulse doesn’t stop at animals. In a study by Jonathan Knight published in New Scientist in 1999 he studied the ‘possibility that plant glutamate receptors may function much as the human nervous system functions’ (Knight 1999, 7). Similar thoughts were developed in a blog post by journalist Ferris Jabr in Scientific American summing up recent research on the subject in 2010:
Although plants don’t have nerves, plants cells are capable of generating electrical impulses called action potentials, just as nerve cells in animals do. (Jabr 2010)
To sum it up: There are systems in both animals and plants that are similar to human nervous systems.
The likeness of animals and plants to human nervous systems doesn’t mean plants think. What these processes connect us with is action on the level of the autonomous nervous system. This has been the focus of various acting techniques stemming from Stanislavski – techniques on how to bypass the rational and react instinctively (see f.e. Meisner 1987, 162–163).
Biologists agree that plants don’t think or remember in a way we mean by those actions (Sample 2019), but in terms of the system of impulses related to processes that we share with animals and plants, it’s conceivable to develop techniques that could access those processes – in a similar way a technique could access organized activities as elaborated earlier. These would be material processes that are shared by both human, animal and plants. In one way this extends our understanding about how impulse connects humans to environment on a cellular level and how this gives us new insight on how performing technique could extend beyond the human on a microlevel. On the other hand, extending the body in performing technique is not a new innovation. It has its precursors f.e. in Jerzy Grotowski’s work (see the quote below). Extending the body is not presented here as the new contribution of this exposition, only to elaborate how impulse and environment intermesh.
I will end this section with a thought by Jerzy Grotowski as quoted by Dominika Laster at the end of her book Grotowski’s Bridge Made of Memory. I hope it in poetic terms summarizes how I’m hoping to crossbreed the macro and the micro, the one seemingly environmental and the one seemingly human:
Where are our boundaries? And where are the boundaries of the sun? We look: it is a vibrating sphere from which perturbations emanate, explosions, sun storms, expansions. And we think these are more or less its boundaries. But these are not the boundaries of the solar body. Because astronomers speak of ‘solar wind’. What is this wind? These are corpuscles of solar matter emanating far into our planetary system and forming a type of web, which surrounds the entire system protecting it from external cosmic rays. Is this the boundary of the sun? Perhaps. But if so we are in the sun. The same is true of our body. (Laster 2016, 150–151)
We started with the impulse as the smallest element in performing and here we’re diving through both the human, animal and plant domains with the help of the concept of impulse. Some elements in this through-line are familiar from practitioners like Grotowski, but I think linking impulse to both more recent research on nervous systems and to more recent conceptualizations of artistic research, what emerges is both a more precise and concrete direction we can follow towards embodied technique beyond the body and towards its further liberation in terms of context.
What Do You Mean by Meaning?
Most of my analysis revolves around linking impulse to meaning. Co-creation of meaning is the aim of the microlevel technique and at the heart of my main research question. I originally approached the question about what does meaning mean by looking for a technical tool that would prove that a meaning has been created in the articipant regardless of its form. It’s been challenging to find this precise tool as I’ve also wanted to keep the meaning and form of that specific meaning open so it would reflect the actual work done in participatory and immersive performances and also extend it to open-ended work.
My original aim was to develop a technique that would give an actor tools to work in participatory and immersive performances. As my research progressed, I found out that this is not a wholly relevant way to approach this question, but we need to find a way to train performers in a manner that would enable them to develop these tools themselves in an open-ended way. We would need to train performers directly with the unpredictable impulses of an unknown audience. In a similar way I have originally tried explaining what I mean by meaning in order to be precise only to find out that I need to give the possibility for precision to the performers in a much more open manner. This has led me to include play testing as a training method.
I have two answers to the question in the title of this section. One of them draws on Alva Noë’s thoughts on organized activities. I believe these can be consciously triggered in participatory and immersive work in order to trigger a sense of meaning in the articipants. This is what I believe can be seen in the ‘Scene with the Doctor’ Time code 06.55. Organised activities are something we recognize and instinctively know how to behave in – the activities organize us. In the instance of this scene one of the organized activities is the back and forth of a therapist’s session that comes into play especially when the performer asks the articipant about whether they have a problematic relationship with their mother. The precision in the invitation by the performer allows an emotional connection between the performer and the articipant and it enables the articipant to join further in on the discussion on a deeper level.
Precision and Meaning
One of the things that has repeatedly manifested itself both in the performance last year and in the workshop this year is the meaning of precision. This relates to both precision in terms of action forming the organized activities and precision in play testing when searching for a specific action just for that specific articipant. The action becomes more precise when working with another person whose focus makes your own focus more precise. This precision – together with the openness mentioned earlier – invites the meaning to arrive.
The importance of specificity in creating a sense of meaning has been found to be true in the previous research phase (in the performance of The Real Health Center) when working with performers, but it also manifested itself with the workshop participants very fast after only one repetition of the exercise through line.
In the exercise through line it became clear that when the description of the perception was clear and specific enough it also triggered a precise action from the performer. Lullaby for a Fern Of course it’s good to remember that this situation of describing one’s perception in words is constructed only for this specific exercise. In the performance situation the participant doesn’t usually describe their perception. In the performance the task for the performer is to be able to pick up a precision in the perception of the articipant without their describing it. The way the exercise is constructed it’s meant to train the ability to sense a clear starting point – a specific perception – and to turn it into a clear action which will bring the meaning arising from the action of the participant into a clearer focus – with the help of the performer.
There is an added benefit: The perception of the participant is not necessarily sharp to begin with, but by adding the focus of the performer it often gathers precision. By this mechanism we end up in a process where the perception of the articipant has been made precise which in turn gives rise to a precise action the aim of which is to give rise to a precise meaning. This is what we’re after on a level of technique in relation to perception.
Play Test as a Training Method
Second answer to the question of meaning comes in the form of a method of training. We are searching for meaning, but in any performance that might come in whatever form and whatever content we can imagine – and in addition the audience can imagine more ways we can’t. This is the question in terms of training: how to be able to respond to all of these unpredictable impulses coming from whoever might be the audience. As a solution I’m offering the use of play test as a constant laboratory of technique. Play testing is done in order to get a sense of the range of responses the audience might have to what the piece of game or artwork proposes as a set of invitations or instructions. In a similar way play testing can be used to train performers in learning to respond to as wide a variety of impulses as possible – impulses that can’t be predicted by any one trainer or performer.
Play tests are generally in use in making participatory, interactive and immersive performances. They are used as a method of testing mechanisms which create explicit interaction with the audience. I have attended numerous play tests of immersive performances both in Finland and UK. In Finland the last one to call themself a play test was an immersive performance called EVE by an immersive designer Eero Tiainen in Helsinki in 17.7.2019. In the UK the last one I’ve attended was a collection of play tests that were set under a single ‘Scratch Night’ in 18.5.2014 at Camden People’s Theatre in London and organized by the immersive theatre company Coney. I have also used the term in my own immersive performances since 2014. The term itself has been borrowed from game design where the testing procedures can be extremely refined. In performing arts the procedures around play testing are very much in process and play tests are not used systematically in training performers as far as I’m aware.
Theatre, Dance and Performance Training special issue 9.2. which has been mentioned earlier focuses on training for immersive, interactive and participatory theatre. None of its writers mention play tests as a method of training the technique of the performer. I’m also not aware of this as a general practice with any immersive theatre company even though they routinely describe having the audience at the heart of its practice (see f.e. Nelson 2019c, 1.10.00). I’ve also attended two workshops by the practitioners of the most iconic immersive theatre company Punchdrunk (November 2016 in London and in July 2019; details can be found further below). Both workshops were professional and extremely beneficial in their own way, but they consisted of experts training with other experts, not with audience members.
Interactive structures create variables of behavior which are impossible for anyone to predict. Also the way individual players interpret any invitations or instructions can’t be totally understood without testing them with an unknown audience. The working group making a game/performance ultimately gets used to the structures at some point and their reactions to those structures won’t anymore correspond with those of a person who tries the game/performance for the first time.
Same happens on a microlevel in performing. Play testing with unknown audience members means the performers have as little prior knowledge of the audience as possible. This enables a situation where the performer has to learn to sense a person who they don’t have a previous history with and also in an ideal situation no shared technique. This latter is an important distinction to most training done in performing arts. Training tends to happen between practitioners. This means practitioners start to have a shared vocabulary and they get used to the range and quality of impulses exchanged. The sensing of an unknown audience member is not trained in this deeper sense. This is markedly different when working with people who don’t share these common vocabularies. Good interactive performers develop this ability over time as they practice it in different performances, but this doesn’t amount to a systematic training method. The audience often comes into play only when the practitioners start making performances.
In the training system that I’m trying to expose in this exposition, I first train performers in a particular technique in relation to perception that gives them tools they can use in participatory and immersive performances, but the main contribution of this exposition lies in play testing as performer training. Like participatory and immersive performances make a shift from enclosed performances – performances that can be performed without audience if need be – to performances that need the contribution from an audience to fulfil their form, training in a performing technique can be done without audience to a certain point, but I’m proposing that even the training should include the audience to train performers in the actual participatory and immersive performing itself.
In the system I’m proposing I first work with performers to give them some tools to use in interactive, participatory and immersive situations. This is the level of technique in this research. This can be seen in all the other videos besides the Scene with the Doctor. The workshop in this case culminates in a play test where this technique is put to a test with an unknown audience member. The ‘Scene with the Doctor’ is the play test in the case of this workshop.
The use of play test to develop performing technique was an important finding in this workshop. In my research I started out looking for a very defined technique, but when research progressed I realized that because participatory and immersive performances essentially need the audience to fulfil the work, the same applies to performer training. Performers need to train in the detailed ways audiences can themselves make the decisions about meaning and its myriad forms. If we define a technique in a way it’s been defined in training for enclosed proscenium arch performances, we risk changing the structures, but not challenging the performer’s technique on a microlevel.
I’ll give an example from two workshop by practitioners working with the immersive theatre company Punchdrunk. I’ve attended one workshop by Punchdrunk Enrichment (a workshop of two hours in 9.11.2014 in Shoreditch Town Hall, London) and one by choreographer Maxine Doyle (an 8-day workshop in 9.–16.7.2018 in Berlin as part of the b12 workshop festival) which was in preparation of her performance in 2019. The workshop by Punchdrunk Enrichment was a short workshop about scenography and the workshop by Maxine Doyle was focused on dance. In both cases it’s fair to say that the interaction with the audience wasn’t explicitly the main focus of either of the workshops, but nevertheless these work as examples of a general tendency of training for participatory, immersive and interactive performances where audience is implicitly put at the center of the performance, but the inclusion of audience is not experienced as being essential to training for these performances.
Play tests are of course often difficult to organize and require a lot of logistical organizing. In the instance of the workshop of The Real Health Center the problem was relatively easy to solve in the sense that we asked each workshop participant to ask one friend for a play test and one the others wouldn’t know. We then switched these play testers around so we could have the workshop participants (performers) try the scene with persons they didn’t know previously. I organized the test so that the play testers would walk straight into the play test without meeting any of the other participants (performers) of the workshop, other articipants of the scene or anyone else besides the performer – who they didn’t know in advance – when beginning the scene.
The practical challenges are not the only reason why play tests are not used as part of the training. Many of the immersive performances still stay relatively close to proscenium arch model. The Punchdrunk Encyclopaedia talks a lot about how Punchdrunk conceives the audience as an eye of the camera which then edits its own film of the performance (Machon & Punchdrunk 2019, 168). In this metaphor the audience is still very much a spectator. This is a great innovation in its own way, but it still applies and multiplies the proscenium arch performance instead of changing it into a different mode of action. Notable exception to this are the one-on-ones inside the Punchdrunk masked shows which Maxine Doyle explicitly links with the practice of one-on-ones in live art (personal communication).
When the performer is put to a play test with an unknown audience member, the sensing gets deeper, more intensive, more dynamic and more precise. This is also a moment where the performer might get lost as there is suddenly more diverse impulses coming from the audience or the audience behaves differently than participants (other performers) in a workshop before. You can see this in the beginning of the ‘Scene with the Doctor’ Time code 00.17.
Here the performer has come to meet the articipant with a relatively clear and open proposal for an action, but the articipant is clearly lost in the multitude of possibilities and not sure how they are to behave in the situation. Openness on the part of the proposal from the performer here is good and in line to what are the instructions given for the performer, but an action that would have been more directly coming out of the perception of the articipant would’ve made it easier for the articipant to join in on the action. Now an action coming from outside is too general to give a clear direction for the articipant.
Later in the video you can see the performer getting more precise with the information given and a meaning emerges. The precision in terms of the technique, openness in relation to the impulses of the articipant and the environment and the overall situation of the play test create a polymorphous method for training performing in immersive, participatory and interactive performances
A detailed description of the play test in the workshop of The Real Health Center can be found here. The description aims to detail how the technique worked in the play test and what were its benefits in this particular instance.
This research exposition shows a distinctive approach to performer training that uses play testing with an unknown audience as a training method. This training system was developed in order to train performers in participatory and immersive performances to the specific kind of unpredictable impulses that arise from performing with unknown audience members.
The workshop, audiovisual methodology, this analysis and the form of this exposition comprise this artistic part presented as its own epistemic object. Even though I’ll be summing up the findings here, the entire exposition where methodology, technique and the aesthetic choices throughout the process are all pertinent.
Clarifying the Technique
The performer’s technique was clarified in the workshop and in subsequent reflection in relation to other approaches to performing in participatory and immersive performances. I drew on Alva Noë’s thoughts on organized activities as one way of understanding how meaning is co-created with the technique underlining the importance of precision and openness.
The similarities of human nervous system and corresponding systems in animals and plants were found to open possibilities of extending the use of impulse in the context of performing technique beyond the performing arts and beyond ‘human’. This opened new pathways into the question how meaning is created between performer, articipant and environment.
Many of the differences – between previous approaches and my research – gather around how difficult it is to grasp the details of any performing technique in the form of text – text not always being the best medium by which to communicate especially the myriad subtleties of physical action. Many of the details of the technique and the method are for this reason presented in the form of videos in this exposition.
Play Test as a Training Method
In terms of training, using play test to teach performing in participatory and immersive performances was found to be an essential method. Even though test audiences are being used to practice performances, in this instance play test is used to train the performer’s technique itself. The use of ‘real’ people together with ‘real’ location created an approach to performing where the intensity of the situation lets emerge a major pedagogical benefit: Many reported that only by having gone through the play test they understood what the technique was about (personal notes). The use of the play test resonates with the nature of participatory and immersive performances in the sense that both these kinds of performances and the performing technique need audience to come to fruition.
General Conclusions about Specific Things
In this second artistic part of my doctoral thesis I managed to combine practical site-specific workshop, audiovisual methodology, clarification of the training system, reflection in a form of text and a creation of a web interface where these all are combined. However, the combination is still rudimentary at this point in the research process. An extensive game mechanism enabling the person experiencing this exposition to experience the multiplicity of experiences of the articipants – of both the original performance and the workshop in focus in this exposition – would ask for an interface allowing for that level of multiplicity. This is not yet possible with the resources at hand, but will be developed further in the next stage of the research when combined with audiovisual materials from the original performance of The Real Health Center.
I also see this as a natural stage in the development of expositions in artistic research when exposition overall as an epistemic object is in its infancy. I hear this in Mika Elo’s words when he talks about ‘a singular, incompletely articulated body (a singular point of reference) in its anticipated knowability.’ (Elo in Schwab & Borgdorff 2014, 34). One part of the success in this area is how audiovisual methodology took one important step forward with the benefit of an outside videographer. This made it possible for researchers not present in the situation to get a sense of what are the embodied details of the technique and the overall training system I’m presenting in the text. This corresponds to what we’ve discussed earlier also in the context of audiovisual methodology: how mobile video can facilitate the social empathy of researchers (Spinney 2015, 237).
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