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“I can do that”: The Multi-modal, Durational Vibrancy of Theatrical Matter

May 27 - May 28

This paper complicates two theoretical threads in recent discussions of the ontology and communicative potential of matter by exploring the aesthetic context of theatrical performance. Theatrical matter is particularly complex because it is mutable. On the one hand, it is multi-modal: human and non-human; performative and spectatorial; primary as well as re-presented in publicity and archival remediations; specific and, in some cases, also iconic. On the other hand, it is durational: it may have a pre-history that theatre-makers and audiences remember; it undergoes a process of re-making in a new production context; it contributes to the liveness of a performance; it persists in memorial and archival forms after a performance (Phelan 1993, Taylor 2002, Schneider 2011); and perhaps it may be starting this cycle anew in many new productions. New materialism and theories of intersubjective address (Schnieder 2015, MacDonald 2016, Sobchack 1992) provide helpful frameworks for understanding, respectively, the agency of the non-human, and the non-human as a repository and locus of acts of human communication. However, theatrical matter is also ontologically defined by its potentiality (Worthen 2010, 2014; Sack 2015), which derives from its ontological mutability, offering  it a kind of distributed, discursive, neither-human-nor-non-human “vibrancy” (Bennett 2007) that complicates existing theoretical frames. Taking one theatrical object as our test case—a top hat from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of A Chorus Line—we propose a working model of the multimodal, durational vibrancy of theatrical matter.


Shana MacDonald (Waterloo)

Jennifer Roberts-Smith (Waterloo)


May 27
May 28
Event Category:


Université de Montréal
Quebec Canada


Theatre and New Materialisms, the 2019 international conference of the Société québécoise d’études théâtrales