Publication 6714

Blair R. (2019) 4E cognition for directing: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. In: Kemp R. & McConachie B. (eds.) Routledge companion to theatre, performance and cognitive science. Routledge, Oxon: 91–99. Fulltext at
Excerpt: Staging traditional text-based theatre can be described as moving from the page to the stage, doing things with words or making the word flesh. Theatre artists create worldswithin-the-world that are meaningful for and affect those who make them and see them. Using two case studies, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, this essay considers how to apply principles of 4E cognition to processes of making theatre, in negotiating the relationships among text, research and embodiment. Terms from cognitive science illuminate the inter-relationships of perception and meaning involved in performance, and also in human experience more broadly. 4E cognition is a basic feature of human existence – we operate by its principles all the time every day. This essay uses some of the research in 4E cognition to study rehearsal and performance processes in the theatre, in order to better understand both theatrical practice and aspects of human cognition more generally; rehearsal processes and performances provide discrete models of cognitive ecologies that are broadly reflective of how we operate in life. Through the case studies, I consider dramatic text, actor-as-individual, actor-as-company-member, physical material given (e.g., space, set, costumes, props – or ‘properties, ’ things actors manipulate and use with their hands) and audience, and how these work together. Applying enactivist concepts can move actors from an intellectual grasp of historically complex materials into a fully embodied and collectively vital engagement. I begin with a brief reminder of the 4E terms: embodied, embedded, extended and enacted.

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