Sarah Bay-Cheng: “Theatre without Theatre: Performance Transmission as Translation” (Keynote lecture)

In the wake of the global pandemic, nearly all forms of live performance – theatre, music, and live art, among others – abruptly shifted to digital production online. This phenomenon may be best understood as a (compelled) act of translation, the “expression or rendering of a thing in another medium or form; the conversion or adaptation of a thing to another system, context, or use” (OED). Theatre historians and scholars have debated previously the application of translation theory to understanding its shift from printed page to embodied stage. However, the movement of performance from text to embodiment to digital renderings raises further questions about the effect of diverse and diffuse mediatization of the performance, both as creation and experience. In the wake March 2020, the debate continued about whether or not these online offerings constituted “theatre.” Awards such as the Golden Globe nomination to the filmed version of Hamilton in the “motion picture” category further complicated the question of ontology and essential nature of theatre on screens. Can there be a theatre without theatres? Expanding the question of digital performance as theatre, this talk engages translation theory as a potential framework to apprehend the current phenomenon of theatre across media and to suggest future directions of live art transmissions in the post-pandemic era. 

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