Integrating practice based and neuroscientific perspectives on the impact of digital technology on contemporary narrative dramaturgy, investigated through live simulation exercises

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The collision of the dramatic and narrative arts with digital technology has seen the emergence of distinct narrative experiences incorporating new attributes such as interactivity and participant’s agency within the unfolding of the work. The disruption caused by these innovations and attributes has been hotly debated in many creative industry forums and further reinforced in theoretical discussions focussing on narrative and interactivity, a case in point being the ‘story versus game’ debates waged between the narratologists and the ludologists. As a director and deviser of live performance, my own use of digital technology in productions throughout the 1990s generated concomitant dramaturgical dilemmas regarding the changing structure of narrative and the shifting role of the audience. From the outset of my investigations into these challenges it was clear there was a critical problem to be addressed. Temporality, and the ordering of experience and events in time, provides the foundation of storytelling and narrative dramaturgy. While conventional story structure is predicated on a reflective, re-telling of experience, games and many emerging forms appear to be contingent on a form of lived experience and enactment. This doctorate examines particular aspects of narrative understanding as it is affected by the emergence of these new modes of dramaturgy and performance. Given that the new developments seemed to be challenging western dramatic conventions, in particular the key Aristotelian tenet of representation, I guided my research with this question: ‘How is this technological disruption renegotiating our traditional Aristotelian sense of time and presence?’ This thesis investigates the question from a neuroscientific perspective, integrating practice-based understandings and creative experimentation with neurobiological insights from Antonio Damasio, Francisco Varela and Benjamin Libet. It does so under the supposition that the shifts in narrative composition might in fact be reflective of how we process information. Further, it puts forward the proposal that we might enhance our understanding of contemporary narrative experiences by considering a model of dramaturgy that is informed by this understanding of the brain’s processing mechanisms. In order to test this proposal I firstly set up a live simulation as an example of a technologized and interactive performed narrative, and then I distil four creative micro narratives from that simulation. I then analyse and discuss the micro narratives as forms of neurobiological sense making, potentially indicative of a compositional structure based on an alternate, neurobiological temporal dynamic. The creative experiment and research findings (delivered in the exegesis) suggest the emergence of a new dramaturgical aesthetic and poetic of time; one that is predicated on a neurobiological dramaturgy distinguished by subjectivity, embodiment, enactment and above all, ‘presentness’.
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