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Viral Theatres: Performing Post/Pandemic Culture in the Anthropocene

Dr. Ramona Mosse, Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"

Viral Theatres asks: how is theatrical performance as embodied practice and communal encounter radically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic? The goal of this interdisciplinary practice-based research project is to create a living archive of the transformation that cultural production is currently undergoing, using theatre and performance as sites of negotiation for an increasingly globalised public sphere. The impact of the project cuts across disciplines by documenting how we narrate and perform this present state of exception and how the emerging post-pandemic cultures intervene into our existing understanding of connectivity in the Anthropocene.

Until this year, the idea of pandemic theatre closures was a quaint footnote relegated to the distant past of Early Modern theatre history. With the COVID-19 global crisis and widespread lockdowns, not only have theatres gone dark but public cultural life in general has come to a standstill. Viral Theatres examines a novel split: while the consumption of creative content via digital media has accelerated due to lockdown, the production of such content in standard modes of presence and collaboration has undergone a drastic arrest, threatening particularly the performing arts in their dependence on embodied exchange. The project makes a timely intervention to examine how these substantial shifts change the work processes, institutional infrastructures, and future make-up of the arts sector, understood as a laboratory for emerging dynamics in the public sphere at large. The project has three objectives: 1. to assess how cultural production in theatrical performance can address the effects of social distancing and develop alternative bridges of interconnection; 2. to creatively reflect the historical present and its accelerated move into digital existence; 3. to critically situate the social transformation brought about by the pandemic within the wider research on human agency in the Anthropocene.

The project employs a practice-based collaborative approach at the cross-over between theatre studies, performance practice, and computing/gaming design to model the shifts of physical and digital social interaction by the pandemic. The practice-based methodology moves away from making artistic production the object of critical analysis but uses performance practice as an equal contributor to knowledge production that highlights the importance of the affective and empathic elements in advancing and communicating knowledge and in building new forms of social interaction. Viral Theatres is based on the collaboration between institutions, disciplines, and people. Next to Dr. Ramona Mosse (PI), the project collaborators are: