Non-colocated intersubjectivity

“Intersubjectivity” has many meanings. I like the definition once proposed by Mark Rothko, in the context of live performance: that I know that you know that I am performing for you.

Note that this definition encompasses all of theatre, and none of cinema, all live musical performances, but no musical recordings. It invokes the virtuous cycle between performer and audience. The interaction between the one and the other creates a sort of infinite loop of emotional feedback.

Today during a wide-ranging lunch conversation with Dakota Powell, I had occasion to bring up Rothko’s definition. She has been a pioneer in creating live theatre that transcends physical locality. In her work, actors in one geographic location are projected — in real time — to another location, and audiences therefore respond to performances that are co-located in time, but not in space.

One of the problems with this sort of thing has been the difficulty of providing proper audience feedback to remotely located performers. When you are acting from far away, it can be hard for you to have a good back-channel from the audience.

Recent developments in virtual and augmented reality might change this. Once we have the ability to provide rich audience feedback to actors who are performing in real time, but from a distance, then we will be able to extend Rothko’s notion of intersubjectivity.

“Theatre”, in the full sense of that word, will no longer be restricted to a single geographic location. Rich live performances, informed by audience response, will be able to span the globe.

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