Rhonda Blair, Professor Emerita of Theatre, Southern Methodist University, has been an actor, director, teacher, and scholar engaging acting, directing, text, and their connection to issues such as feminism, race, and class for over 40 years. For over 20 years she has applied research in the cognitive sciences to work in performance and embodiment. She received the American Society for Theatre Research Distinguished Scholar Award for 2019.
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. https://cepa.info/6714
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.
Blair R. (2021) Acting and Dynamic Systems. Constructivist Foundations 17(1): 091–092. https://cepa.info/7415
Open peer commentary on the article “From Liveness to “Lifeness”: Autopoiesis and an Enactive View of Performance” by Maiya Murphy. Abstract: I consider and expand upon some aspects of the target article that are of particular pertinence to actors and directors. The autopoietic framing is useful in that it can be viewed as carrying on from prior work in systemic views of performance, such as those of cognitive ecologies and Stanislavskian-based approaches.