Reconstructing the ‘art of assembling’ in Adelaide in 1841
This paper reports on an experimental research process that aims to reconstruct the culture of spectatorship at the Queen’s Theatre in Adelaide on the opening night of the theatre in January 1841. The premise behind the research is that it is impossible to reproduce the audience-performer relationship in any lost performance without an understanding of the spatial dynamics of the performance venue. The Visualizing Lost Theatres project creates VR models of lost venues to offer immersive laboratories to explore performances from the past. The scholars and artists working inside the VR Queens have embodied elements from the textual archives on the opening performances of Othello within this 3D spatial environment. The paper will introduce the VR model, outline the contextual framework for the performance, explore the probable interpretation of Othello by the cast, all of whom had performed in the play in Hobart and Sydney before moving to Adelaide, and encapsulate what is known about the spectators who attended the opening night performance. Recordings will be presented of the actor-researchers exploring the possible responses of this audience to the performance of the death of Desdemona. Finally, the possibilities for new knowledge to be generated through this experimental methodology will be assessed, particularly about the history of human gatherings consuming fictional material.
Joanne Tompkins, Professor of Theatre at the University of Queensland, was until June Executive Director for Humanities and Creative Arts at the Australian Research Council. She has published numerous books and essays on contemporary and historical theatre research. She is a foundation member of AusStage and is currently researches the possibilities of recreating theatres that no longer exist by means of virtual theatre, through the cultural heritage development company, Ortelia. Her book, Visualising Lost Theatres, co-written with Jonathan Bollen, Julie Holledge and Liyang Xia, is forthcoming in 2021
Julie Holledge, Emeritus Professor, Flinders University. Julie Holledge began her career as an actor and director in the British alternative theatre movement in the 1970s. and moved to Australia in the early 1980s. Major publications include Innocent Flowers: Women in Edwardian Theatre (1981); Women’s Intercultural Performance (2000) with Joanne Tompkins; and A Global Doll’s House (2016) with Jonathan Bollen, Frode Helland, and Joanne Tompkins.
‘Glittering in the dark’: audience appeal and the design of attraction at the Stardust, Las Vegas, 1959
This paper reports from the Visualizing Lost Theatres project on the design of mid-twentieth century revue. It focuses on the second revue presented by the Lido de Paris at the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Ca C’est L’Amour opened in June 1959, playing 15 shows a week, in the Stardust’s Cafe Continental, a showroom which seated 750 people at tables in a tiered cabaret formation. Over a 15 month run, the revue attracted an estimated audience of 800,000 men and women, drawn from the mobile, middle-class of predominantly white America. This study uses digital reconstruction in virtual reality to interrogate relations between venue architecture, production design, performance practice and audience appeal. Combining an architectural account of ‘attraction’ from Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972), with an economic understanding of ‘appeal’ from Susan Bennett’s essay on audience mobility in ‘Theatre/Tourism’ (2005), this paper analyses the design of the Stardust’s ‘glittering in the dark’ attraction as a body-venue articulation in which the Lido revue, shot through with the vectors of international entertainment, momentarily arrests the attention of the tourist-audience passing through. When the Lido closed at the Stardust after 32 years, the revue had attracted 19 million spectators to 22,000 performances. How did the Stardust succeed in attracting an audience for international revue? And how did the Lido revue sustain its audience appeal? Since the casino was demolished in 2007, digital reconstruction using virtual reality extends the horizon for addressing these questions.
Jonathan Bollen is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies at UNSW Sydney. His recent research traces the development of international touring, entrepreneurial diplomacy and commercial entertainment in the Asia Pacific region. He also has experience in the digital humanities, developing collaborative methods for theatre research and data visualisations of networks and tours. He is the author of Touring Variety in the Asia Pacific Region, 1946–1975 (2020) and co-author of A Global Doll’s House: Ibsen and Distant Visions (2016) and Men at Play: Masculinities in Australian Theatre since the 1950s (2008). He has published on data models for theatre research in Theatre Journal (2016), coordinated research for the AusStage database (2006–13), and co-edited recent issues of Popular Entertainment Studies.
The advent of the Covid-19 virus has imposed extreme challenges for the creation of new dance works. Dance is fundamentally an expression of embodiment, reflecting culturally encoded patterns of movement and bodily practices, and typically created and rehearsed in spaces where direct physical contact between the choreographer and individual dancers is both possible and necessary. Indeed, this contact is at the core of virtually all original contemporary dance creation and in its duplication and dissemination. In such a disciplinary practice then, the physical distancing requirements imposed in many parts of the world by COVID-19 would appear to put an end to the possibility of choreographing new work, barring not only bodily contact between the choreographer and the dancer, but even the co-presence of the choreographer and dancer in the same enclosed space given the health risks associated with practices that involve extremes of exertion and respiration.
The larger challenge, that of unemployed performing artists all over the world and locally, presents not only a cultural, but a human tragedy. The State Government of South Australia has stepped into this space of increased precarity with a project-driven scheme designed to keep performing artists employed. The Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre secured such funding in May 2020 for a dance project entitled “The World’s Smallest Stage,” which paired ten local choreographers with company dancers to work remotely in creating short works of 5-8 minutes to be contained within a two meter square space. Drawing on data from interviews with dancers and choreographers, this research seeks to identify discoveries made that responded to the extraordinary challenges of this mode of choreographic production, while also seeking insights into the internal, embodied experience of the dancers and choreographers as they worked in this novel way.
William Peterson is Associate Professor of Drama and Research Theme Leader in Creativity at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Author of Asian Self-Representation at World’s Fairs (Amsterdam University Press 2020), Places for Happiness: Community, Self, and Performance in the Philippines (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016), and Theatre and the Politics of Culture in Contemporary Singapore (Wesleyan UP, 2001), Will’s academic publications have largely focused on religion, dance and theatre in the Philippines, mass events, English-language theatre in Singapore, Maori and Pakeha theatre in Aotearoa/New Zealand, international arts festivals, and interactions between Asia and the West at international expositions.