Theatre and Science: historical relations and performance perspectives
Organização:  CFCUL & CIUHCT
Ciências ULisboa
24 / 06 / 2022

This paper probes into the relation between theatre and science, with the aim of providing a critical awareness of their historical interaction, as well as of the changes that have taken place in the intersection between these divergent cultures. Western theatre and science have a long history of interrelating, especially in their combined invention of stage technologies, starting with the ancient Greeks, continuing thru the early modern and modern periods, throughout twentieth century’s modernisms and postmodernisms, and during our own “post-humanist” era. Secondly, theatre has often dealt with the topic of science, not only by dramatizing the endeavors of scientists, but also by staging complex scientific ideas. Such a “theatre about science” became particularly dynamic in the twentieth century, at a time when science gained increasing recognition in parallel with a corresponding decline of support for the arts and humanities. Plays about science have been performed in a variety of aesthetic modes, ranging from conventional realism (Frayn’s Copenhagen, 1998), post-symbolism (Glass’s and Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, 1979), physical theatre (Landau’s Space, 1999), to philosophical- performance lectures (Aït-Touati’s and Latour’s Moving Earths, 2020). Establishing a third aspect of theatre-and-science interaction, major treatises on performer techniques and training have adopted scientific principles of their contextual periods, helping pave a way towards a theatrical science. A few examples are Diderot’s application of mechanics to physiology in his writings on theatre; Stanislavski’s acting system based on the James-Lange theory of emotion; and Meyerhold’s “Biomechanics” drawing upon Pavlov’s studies on reflexology. Among the most recent directions of inquiry into this third kind of interdisciplinary relation, an engagement with cognitive and affective neuroscience stands out, as manifest in the practice-based research of Rhonda Blair and Bruce McConachie, among others. Accordingly, this communication provides an overview of three kinds of interaction between theatre and science, which by no means exhaust the potentiality of their interdisciplinary combination.

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