Publication Date

April 2015


Marcela Oteíza




English (United States)


In the past decade, the use of multimedia such as film and video in live theater has become so commonplace that it often goes unnoticed in the context of the theatrical event as a whole. When projected as part of a performance, two-dimensional images contribute to the dramatic storytelling of any theatrical piece. However, such imagery plays a crucial role in postdramatic theater, i.e., performances where the dramatic text is not the central element. Christopher Baugh defines postdramatic as a useful term that embraces a wide range of contemporary performance practice and is generally used to refer to works that have been created from the perceptual elements and materials of theatre and which serve their own artistic purposes, not primarily those of the structuring device of pre-existing dramatic texts (212). This type of theater tends to rely upon visual dramaturgy to generate meaning. In this essay, “visual dramaturgy” refers to the storytelling and meaning that is created primarily through the use of visuals, not through the traditional dramatic means of the text. Hans-Thies Lehmann describes visual dramaturgy in the postdramatic theater: In place of dramaturgy regulated by the text one often finds a visual dramaturgy, which seemed to have attained absolute dominance especially in the theatre of the late 1970s and 1980s, until in the 1990s one could observe a certain ‘return to the text.’ Visual dramaturgy here does not mean an exclusively visually organized dramaturgy but rather one that is not subordinated to the text and can therefore freely develop its own logic (93). This notion of visual dramaturgy can be likewise applied to theater in which text is the primary storyteller, but digital media alters and clarifies the text to establish a sense of cohesive dramaturgy. Erika Fischer-Lichte writes, “meaning is generated in and through the act of perception” (141). The viewer perceives visual storytelling elements and assigns meaning to the theatrical event. Performance itself is dependent upon the behavior of the spectators. The audience reactions elicited by the dramaturgy of a piece create the performance and give it meaning. Fischer-Lichte also argues “the illusion created by the technical and electronic media is often even more successful than illusionistic theatre in triggering strong physiological, affective, energetic, and motor reactions in the spectators” (100). Multimedia can play a principal role in creating the visual dramaturgy of a theatrical performance, particularly in the postdramatic theater. For this project, I am focusing on the analysis of five specific performances that I have experienced live. These case studies include media as a principal scenographic element and I will examine how the dramatic narrative of each production is advanced by its inclusion. Applying Erika Fischer-Lichte’s theories on the power of performance and Hans-Thies Lehmann’s theories on the postdramatic theater, the method of analysis will consist of 1) an objective description: space distribution, elements of design, and narrative or stylistic format, and 2) uses of projections including a) dramaturgical function, b) actor-image interaction, and c) overall success of visual storytelling. These performances are: Sontag: Reborn for use of the digital double as a dramatic character, Shakespeare’s Sonnets for spectacle that relies upon visuals, Tragedy of a Friendship for use of title cards and three-dimensional projection surfaces, Hedwig and the Angry Inch for narrative animation sequences, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for the use of projections that create the physical and emotional space of the main character’s mind. Following these specific analyses, I will compare and contrast the five productions with specific reference to projected images’ relation to the dramatic text and actor-image interaction. Finally, I use my own work with projections in my production component as a case study in visual dramaturgy. Specifically, I will explore how evoking the mood of Gertrude Stein’s writing style through projections creates visual dramaturgy in Ida, A Novel.



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