As part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2020, theatre company Dead Centre staged the interactive online performance To Be a Machine (Version 1.0), an adaptation of Mark O’Connell’s eponymous non-fiction book on the topic of transhumanism. Before being able to stream the performance, audience members were asked to record short videos of themselves laughing at a joke or falling asleep. These pre-recorded affective reactions were then uploaded onto iPads set up on individual seats of an auditorium. During the performance, the performer occasionally interacted with the virtual audience, while also posing questions aimed at eliciting a strong affective response (for instance, “how do you think you’re going to die?”) to the audience at home, which they could answer via the chat box.
As a way of accounting for the manifold layers of mediatised emotion in To Be a Machine and similar online performances, this paper introduces and develops the term ‘affective liveness’, bringing together Philip Auslander’s concept of “liveness” with recent work on networked affect (Hillis et al., ed.) and mediatised emotion (Döveling et al.). The proposed term combines the notion of technologically mediated performance with a focus on “mediated feelings of connectedness” (Papacharissi 2) as central elements of spectatorship, taking up Auslander’s suggestion that “the emerging definition of liveness may be built primarily around the audience’s affective experience” (102).
In its always relational and provisional (re)negotiation of the boundaries between performer and spectator, the human and the transhuman, the digital and the postdigital, To Be a Machine is a complex reflection on liveness in times of Covid-19-related theatre closures and audiences “dying to get closer to people, to connect“ (Machine 1). In this context, the final part of this paper will address the question to what extent ‘affective liveness’ could be applied more broadly in connection with interactive or immersive performances during this time.
Auslander, Philip. “Digital Liveness: A Historico-Philosophical Perspective.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, vol. 34, no. 3, 2012, pp. 3–11. doi:10.1162/PAJJ_a_00106.
Döveling, Katrin, et al. “From Mediatized Emotion to Digital Affect Cultures: New Technologies and Global Flows of Emotion.” Social Media + Society, vol. 4, no. 1, 2018, 205630511774314. doi:10.1177/2056305117743141.
Hillis, Ken, et al., editors. Networked Affect. The MIT Press, 2015.
O’Connell, Mark. To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death. Granta, 2017.
Papacharissi, Zizi. “Affective Publics and Structures of Storytelling: Sentiment, Events and Mediality.” Information, Communication & Society, vol. 19, no. 3, 2016, pp. 307–24. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2015.1109697.
To Be a Machine 1.0. By Mark O’Connell, directed by Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd, performances by Jack Gleeson, Dead Centre, 2 Oct 2020, online.