Eco-mimetic dramaturgies: Anticipating the future with eyes closed - in Dramaturgies of immersion. Routledge

Project: Research

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The article is part of the collaboration, Dramaturges of immersion.

What happens when a performance engages our senses in unexpected ways? When we are impacted by something we cannot see, breathe in the scent of a stranger, or sense vibrations in the floor and walls? Immersive theatre often employs a technique where the spectator is blindfolded, thrusting them into an experience dominated by senses other than sight. But why this apparently attention to blindness as a performance strategy? And what kind of aesthetic value is sought through obstructions of the sense of sight?

In Denmark, there seems to be a strong interest in creating at once senseful and thoughtful immersive performance spaces, and in that context, reducing the spectator's visual perception considerably is a significant dramaturgical strategy in immersive theatre. As pointed out by Alston et al. in the publication, Theatre in the Dark, dark components enhance the spectators’ potential for sensory experience (Alston 2017), and darkness in that reason might intensify the way you perceive and interact with the surroundings (Alston 2013: 225-226). From a dramaturgical perspective, blindness and dark components can create a kind of resetting of expectations, which is conventionally integrated into the Western theater's tradition: when the lights go out in the theater, the artwork communicates a shift, or an ending. However, when spectators in whole or parts of an immersive performance are unable to use the sense of sight, the expectations of the dramaturgy in relation to what is to come, drastically increases. In this situaton, the spectator’s arousal will typically raise, aware of every potential sound, movement, vibration, to decode what will happen next. The sensory attention is sharpened. Performances that use this strategy, I propose to view as ‘eco-mimetic’ (Morton 2007:31), as the aesthetic inquiry is not primarily related to mimetic meaning production but is in fact connecting to the atmospheric and material environment. In, what I detect as eco-mimetic dramaturgies, the spectators are invited into a particular atmospheric, sensual, and material state, where tactile touches, sound images and vibrations play a huge part as a premise for the experience. Reducing the spectators’ sense of sight can be an effective amplifier in eco-mimetic dramaturgies, and immersive performances including this reinforcement, is what I refer to, when I make use of the concept eco-mimetic in this article.I will, from a spectrum of eco-mimetic performances argue, that a variation of immersive theater that involve blindness, can be associated with care. First, because I presume that spectators, who are invited to participate without being able to see, must be led and treated through carefull facilitation. Secondly, because I wish to investigate the potential ecological awareness (Morton 2014:5) of the respective performances, performed among other things through the investment in heightened sensuality and embodyment, by apprehending them with an eco-feminist concept of care (Tronto 1993, Bellacasa 2017). Thus, I link the concept of care to an idea, that goes beyond human care for each other. Care will be connected to the performances’ communication of ecological sensibility (Odin Lysaker 2023), which can be extracted from the poetics of the performances as well as from the works, and will be comprehended as artistic responses to the planetary crisis in terms of ‘care for the planet’. Thus, in that light, ecological sensibility is the link between the minor performances and the larger environment, and the article is based on a curiosity to explore this link further, to point at the performances societal visions and potential function. With inspiration in theatre scholar, Jonas Schnor’s, concept, micro-dramaturgies (Schnor 2022: 25-31), the overall aim with this article is to explore how immersive theater use blindness as heightened sensibil-ity, to create micro-ecologies that are intertwined with the larger planetary situation.

I have generated material from three specific Danish immersive performances, each utilizing blindness in unique ways. They range from creating atmospheres of care to inducing anxiety, presenting a spectrum of emotional and sensory engagement:

1. A Story About Blindness at Aarhus Theatre – An adaptation of José Saramago's novel, where spectators, wearing swimming goggles with opaque glass and headphones, experience a contagious blindness epidemic through a narrative of civilizational collapse.
2. Twisted Forest by Wunderland at Røgen Præstegårdsskov (Parsonage Forest) – A live-action game in a forest, where participants, guided by headphones, explore connections between their own body and the planet through closed eyes and group collaboration.
3. Garden by Himherandit at Bora-bora – A quest for identity where spectators alternate between blindness and sight, navigating a labyrinthine underworld filled with surreal encounters.

The three performances illustrate different uses of blindness and the tension between seeing and not seeing as dramaturgical components. I see them as different confirmations of the planetary crisis, and consequently dramaturgically staged in considerably different modalities. They embody eco-mimetic dramaturgies, not just in their thematic content but in their method of engaging the audience through heightened sensory experiences. Consequently, they are suitably different and execute care in different ways, and at the same time uniform enough to compare to each other. The potential impact of the arti-cle’s engagement with these performances, thought with a new materialistic perspective of care, is to make it probable, how immersive theater by heightened sensibility can create small-scale ecologies that can be seen as parttakers in the larger ’care for the planet’.
Effective start/end date02/01/202331/12/2024