Disembodied Performance: Abstraction of Representation in Live Theater

Torpey, P. "Disembodied Performance: Abstraction of Representation in Live Theater"


Early in Tod Machover's opera Death and the Powers, the main character, Simon Powers, is subsumed into a technological environment of his own creation. The theatrical set comes alive in the form of robotic, visual, and sonic elements that allow the actor to extend his range and influence across the stage in unique and dynamic ways. The environment must compellingly assume the behavior and expression of the absent Simon.

This thesis presents a new approach called Disembodied Performance that adapts ideas from affective psychology, cognitive science, and the theatrical tradition to create a framework for thinking about the translation of stage presence. An implementation of a system informed by this methodology is demonstrated. In order to distill the essence of this character, we recover performance parameters in real-time from physiological sensors, voice, and vision systems. This system allows the offstage actor to express emotion and interact with others onstage. The Disembodied Performance approach takes a new direction in augmented performance by employing a nonrepresentational abstraction of a human presence that fully translates a character into an environment. The technique and theory presented also have broad-reaching applications outside of theater for personal expression, telepresence, and storytelling.

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