Theatre in Wales

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"Theatre is Carnal, Corporeal”

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Human Presence , Public Arts , April 7, 2021
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Human Presence Many, many words spoken for the anniversary of the first lockdown. Public arts continue in their state of limbo.

It should be remembered that Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary in London, won plaudits for getting commitment from the Treasury for a support programme, grants and loans, for the arts.

The quid pro quo was entirely reasonable, that the beneficiaries make contact with audiences of some kind via the Internet. Commentators make claims that all has changed. All has changed if human beings and a hundred centuries of aesthetics are ignored.

Quotations from England and Wales:

“The instant availability of everything you want at the click of a mouse turns out not to be the thing you want most; human contact.” That was Nicholas Hytner in his memoir “Balancing Acts”.

“Three full days in a rehearsal space....Zoom is for meetings and chat...Nothing replaces human interaction.” That was Angharad Lee on social media 19h March.

“Theatre is carnal, corporeal.” That was Susan Sontag in an essay on Artaud written in 1963.

The perceptions of these three is contested by a strand of theorists embedded in higher education.


“Digital performance is an expansion of a constantly progressing history of [sic] which embracing the adaptation of these new and already existing technologies, in which to amplify a performance and the visual art aesthetic effect, and to create the sense of a spectacle as well as capturing the emotional and the sensorial impact.”

This writer- author of Wikipedia's entry on “digital performance”- contends that the sensory impact of performance is enhanced when it is a simulacrum behind a screen of glass.

As is characteristic assertion is sufficient. Evidence or knowledge of human psychology or biology is not considered necessary.

The article of 23rd March touched on human physiology, the structures of eye and ear. There is an added area, the impact of human performance on health.

Isolation is a feature of modernity. No culture before our own has included humans who live in single-person habitats.

Reporting of loneliness correlates strongly with the ratio of time spent online.

Daniel Evans of Chichester Theatres referred at a Zoom event in December to a medical study that showed t-cells get a boost from live performance. Tablet and smartphone do not achieve the same.

In 2015 Conductor Eric Whitacre worked with Daisy Miller at the Centre for Performance Science at the Royal College of Music. The pair set up the first experiment outside a laboratory to measure the biological effect of attending a concert.

Saliva swabs taken before and after a concert showed a notable decrease in stress hormones. Aaron Williamon, head of the CPS:

“Previous research had shown that reductions in stress hormone activity are linked with increases in immune function, including increases in immune function, including increases in cytokines and chemokines responsible for communicating between cells and the brain. So attending cultural events seems to have benefits for immune response as well as reducing psychological stress.”

Theatre, one manifestation of social co-presence, is literally, empirically health-enhancing.

My own article, written for Wales Arts Review, on the anniversary of Wales' closure, opened:
“Theatre is a place, a seeing-in-a-place. Its origin in Greek, “theatron”, denotes a spectacle or a place for viewing, “Theasthai” means to behold and the root “thea” means variously a view or a seeing or a seat itself. Conceptually “Eisteddfod” is similar, its root “sedd”, a seat...Its first condition is that it be a place in the company of others. If it is an act of separation, done within a private home, whatever it is it has ceased to be theatre.”

The repeated enforced asociality of the last twelve months has been the cost needed to quell community transmission. The cost, albeit necessary, has been high. Adults, who are still children, have spoken heart-rendingly on television of seeing parents behind screens turn away in resignation to an ending of life without touch or comfort.

Article on one-year loss of theatre at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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