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Theatrical techniques for double vision

By Domenico Pacitti

"Theatre and Technology"  ["Teatro e Tecnologia"] by Carla Dente Baschiera. Published in 2002 in Fictions: studi sulla narratività, year 1, issue 1, by Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, Pisa & Rome, 25 pages, €10.33, ISBN 88 7741 990 3.

Carla Dente's article opens with the statement that theatre art is a sort of "know-how" that involves "the manipulation of various materials and numerous instruments" in order to achieve certain goals. Ironically, as it turns out, Mrs Dente's idea of how to write a scholarly article appears to be based on similar principles.

Mrs Dente first provides some background on the relation between art and technology and then goes on to talk about the physical characteristics of the theatre and the spectator's position in relation to stage and actors. New technology is said to be transforming traditional theatre models by breaking down barriers. The future promises virtual models that will greatly intensify spectator involvement and open new experimental avenues.

Despite some interesting quotes and references, the article lacks coherence and somehow seems to lead nowhere, which is confirmed by Mrs Dente's inability to draw a proper final conclusion. At times it is as if Mrs Dente is using borrowed words without any firm idea of their underlying concepts so that she quite literally seems not to know what she is talking about. Terminological errors for new technological devices reinforce this impression, rendering it difficult to separate sense from nonsense.

The suspicion of a mindless cut-and-paste job gains considerable currency on a close reading of another work which bears the same title as Mrs Dente's article: "Teatro e Tecnologia", a graduation thesis presented by Pericle Salvini at the University of Pisa's faculty of modern languages in January 2000. Mr Salvini's thesis, the result of independent research carried out partly in the UK, is 124 pages long and contains 96 bibliographical references, 25 of which Mrs Dente cites. But nowhere in her article does she even mention either Mr Salvini or his thesis, even though she also happens to have been his official supervisor.

Mr Salvini's work, on the other hand, is clear and coherent throughout and bears everywhere the hallmark of honest research. It is a pity that it has not been published, since it could no doubt serve future students and others as a useful introduction to the subject.

The following passages from Mrs Dente's article (left) are given alongside their original counterparts in Mr Salvini's thesis (right) so that readers can judge for themselves. All of the passages appear in the first third of Mrs Dente's article. The remainder of the article contains many more similar cases. Note that the red dots ... should be read as an editorial addition. All other punctuation, including square brackets, is that of the two authors. We have not tried to trace any other of Mrs Dente's possible cut-and-paste victims but suspect that Mr Salvini could well be in good company.

 

Carla Dente: "Teatro e Tecnologia" (2002)

 

Pericle Salvini: "Teatro e Tecnologia" (2000)

 

 

 

Sin dalle sue origini il teatro ha fatto uso della tecnologia disponibile nel proprio tempo - si pensi alle maschere greche con il loro sistema di amplificazione della voce ... (Dente)

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... sin dalle sue origini il teatro facesse uso della tecnologia disponibile nel proprio tempo: le maschere greche (con il loro sistema di amplificazione della voce) ... (Salvini)

 

   

 

"For presence in the theatre has [...] to do with [...] the way in which the architectural and technological components of the performance space either promote or inhibit a sense of 'reciprocity' between actors and spectators." (Aston & Savona)

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"For presence in the theatre has [...] to do with [...] the way in which the architectural and technological components of the performance space either promote or inhibit a sense of 'reciprocity' between actors and spectators." (Aston & Savona)

 

   

 

"[...] witnessed a move away from the fixed, architectural theatre space, and the popularizing of the notion of appropriating, on an ad hoc basis, spaces in which to make theatre - the ability, as Peter Brook describes it, to 'take any empty space and call it a bare stage'. The unfixing of boundaries between the spectating space and the performing space reflects an attempt to be inclusive, i.e. to establish an active mode in the contact between performer and spectator." (erroneously attributed to Aston & Savona)

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... and witnessed a move away from the fixed, architectural theatre space, and the popularizing of the notion of appropriating, on an ad hoc basis, spaces in which to make theatre - the ability, as Peter Brook describes it, to 'take any empty space and call it a bare stage'. The unfixing of boundaries between the spectating space and the performing space reflects an attempt to be inclusive, i.e. to establish an active mode in the contact between performer and spectator." (correctly attributed to R. Copeland)

 

   

 

"The slow but continual loosening of boundaries between art forms [...], and with it a drive to make witnesses or participants, not spectators, has been accompanied by related attempts to make new contexts for the presentation of live work." (T. Etchelles)

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"The slow but continual loosening of boundaries between art forms, evident since the 1960s, and with it a drive to make witnesses or participants, not spectators, has been accompanied by related attempts to make new contexts for the presentation of live work." (T. Etchelles)

 

   

 

Su questa stessa linea, ma più estremo, l'atteggiamento di Deborah Warner nel realizzare il suo St. Pancreas Project, un "site-specific work" che si ambientava nel grande hotel in disuso sopra la stazione di St. Pancras, per uno spettatore alla volta, per il quale lei e la sua collaboratrice Hildegard Bechtler disegnavano un itinerario individuale (Dente): "We were finding a route through a maze of corridors that an audience person could follow, and then enhancing that journey with sightings of inanimate objects, or ghosts of people who used to inhabit the hotel." (D. Warner)

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Consideriamo la regista Deborah Warner, la quale ... ha idee molto radicali ... Tra le sue opere c'è il già citato St. Pancras Project (1994.95) - un "site-specific work" - realizzato in un hotel abbandonato e fatto per uno spettatore alla volta; l'autrice descrive così il piano per il suo progetto (Salvini): "We [lei e la sua collaboratrice Hildegard Bechtler] were finding a route through a maze of corridors that an audience person could follow, and then enhancing that journey with sightings of inanimate objects, or ghosts of people who used to inhabit the hotel." (D. Warner)

 

   

 

"Mixed media performance offers a swifter route to the perceptual and representational languages of contemporary culture than older theatre strategies. We may have before us a genuinely avant-garde development, set to influence mainstream theatre in years to come. The allure of multimedia work, as far as theatre is concerned, lies in the conjunction of the live and mediated: the rhetorics of TV and film, of video and computer games, become a a resource that can freshen up our stagings of modern experience, whilst remaining subject to the three-dimensionality and the liveness of the theatre." (A. Lavender)

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"Mixed-media performance offers a swifter route to the perceptual and representational languages of contemporary culture than older theatre strategies. We may have before us a genuinely avant-garde development, set to influence mainstream theatre in years to come. The allure of multimedia work, as far as theatre is concerned, lies in the conjunction of the live and mediated: the rhetorics of TV and film, of video and computer games, become a a resource that can freshen up our stagings of modern experience, whilst remaining subject to the three-dimensionality and the liveness of theatre." (A. Lavender)

 

   

 

Tuttavia, nel caso di forme di teatro del tutto virtuale, reso possibile dall'uso di Head Mounted Devices (HMD), speciali dispositivi che vengono indossati come caschi, forniti di speciali occhiali polarizzati, gli spettatori annullano la distanza psicologica tra loro e gli oggetti di scena arrivando, con la rappresentazione tridimensionale, a sperimentare la sensazione del contatto fisico con loro. La scena digitale è particolarmente suggestiva, in particolare, quando si rappresentino gli ambienti del sogno e dell'interno della mente. (Dente)

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In questo tipo di teatro il pubblico spesso deve indossare occhiali polarizzati o speciali caschi chiamati HMD ("head mounted display") che servono per vedere lo spettacolo in tre dimensioni ... La "scena digitale", come quella usata in The Adding Machine, non solo permette di ricreare gli ambienti più strani, in particolar modo di adatta a rappresentare quelli del sogno o della mente, ma, grazie agli effetti tridimensionali permette allo spettatore di avvicinarsi quasi fino a toccare l'ambiente, cioè la scena, che spesso è rappresentata in modo molto verosimile. (Salvini)

 

   

 

Ci sono ancora delle forme di pre-giudizio negativo sulla utilizzazione di forme tecnologiche di composizione di compagini testuali per la rappresentazione in teatro [computer theatre, virtual theatre]. In una raccolta intitolata Theater in Cyberspace è contenuto un saggio di Twyla Mitchell che discute l'uso della scrittura teatrale al computer, intendendo per scrittura teatrale una sorta di copione informatizzato dove sono contenuti non solo il testo linguistico, ma anche tutte le compagini testuali di tutti i linguaggi che collaborano ad una realizzazione scenica (Dente). "The computer is arguably the single most important advance to happen to the physical production of theatre in the last century, and perhaps well into the next. The puzzling question is, why are there artists in the theatre that still fear and loathe the computer, seeing it as the 'enemy'?" (T. Mitchell)

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... ci sono ancora pregiudizi e ostilità nei confronti dell'uso della tecnologia a teatro (ovviamente mi riferisco alle ultime tecnologie, cioè al computer, incluso Internet e la realtà virtuale). Nella raccolta di saggi edita da Stephen A. Shrum intitolata Theater in Cyberspace, si parla dell'uso del computer sia nel campo dell'istruzione sia nel campo della pratica teatrale. nel suo saggio, Twyla Mitchell propone di utilizzare il computer per la produzione di opere teatrali e allo stesso tempo nota come ci siano ancora molti problemi (non di tipo economico) prima che questo avvenga (Salvini): "The computer is arguably the single most important advance to happen to the physical production of theatre in the last century, and perhaps well into the next. The puzzling question is, why are there artists in the theatre that still fear and loathe the computer, seeing it as the 'enemy'?" (T. Mitchell)

 

   

 

L'autrice sostiene che molte difficoltà incontrate da registi, tecnici, attori, scenografi, potrebbero essere risolte se solo costoro arrivassero a concepire un palcoscenico computerizzato ... costumisti, tecnici del suono e delle luci, scenografi amministratori possono utilmente organizzare il proprio lavoro sfruttando le potenzialità della nuova tecnologia. (Dente)

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L'autrice è convinta che molte difficoltà incontrate da registi, tecnici, attori, scenografi potrebbero essere risolte se solo costoro sapessero usare il computer ... costumisti, tecnici del suono, tecnici delle luci, delle scene e infine gli amministratori possono trarre dei vantaggi dall'uso del computer nel loro lavoro. (Salvini)

 

 

Mrs Dente was recently awarded a promoted post in English literature at the University of Pisa's faculty of modern languages.

Note: This review was first published by JUST Book Reviews on June 3 2003.