Academic journal article TheatreForum

Layering Spectatorship: Live and Mediated Bodies in Stein|Holum Projects' "The Wholehearted"

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Layering Spectatorship: Live and Mediated Bodies in Stein|Holum Projects' "The Wholehearted"

Article excerpt

Within moments of the house lights dimming to signal the start of The Wholehearted, audience members are thrust from one mode of spectatorship to another. Upon initially entering the theatre space, situated in the round, the audience is comforted in the familiarity of the theatrical apparatus, denoted by clear boundaries between the stage and the seating-between the actor and spectator. The raised stage, littered with small props and bits of utilitarian furniture, intentionally marks the center area as special; the set of steps leading to the stage suggests a threshold into the world of the play that is markedly different from the quotidian space meant for spectators to focus their collective gaze onto the performance space in front of them. Although one's gaze is meant to be directed at the actor in the center of the room, lifting one's eyes slightly to view fellow audience members across the theatre provides an occasional reminder of the collective theatrical experience. The start of the show, however, immediately complicates this type of traditional theatrical spectatorship by layering onto it the spectatorship of a live sporting event. Sounds of the roaring crowd are mixed with heavy metal music and the voices of boxing commentators as the monitor screens, positioned above the performance space resembling a sports arena's "jumbotron," display both live and prerecorded footage of a female boxer warming up and demonstrating her physical and technical prowess. [Photo 2] Below the jumbotron, a single spot light highlights the working body of Dee Crosby, a former women's boxing champion, preparing for a match and riling the crowd in her favor. The jumbotron operates alongside Crosby to actively engage the audience by flashing the phrase "LET'S MAKE SOME NOISE." Through the combination of the live performer with digital technology, the audience is transported from the theatre, traditionally marked by a quiet, undisruptive decorum, to the sporting arena, where one is encouraged to actively choose sides and cheer for victory.

This initial use of screens as a sports jumbotron foreshadows The Wholehearted's consistent incorporation of live and prerecorded video in its unremitting interrogation of how spectatorship both operates and can be manipulated. The performance utilizes an array of diverse techniques that bridge live and mediated performance. These techniques, which include the overlapping of live and recorded bodies, live video feeds offering atypical points of view to the action on stage, and first-person camera angles that position spectators as characters themselves, cumulatively produce a theatrical experience in which spectatorship is unstable, layered, and everchanging. The construction of multiple layers of spectatorship does not simply produce an innovate theatrical experience; instead, it complements the work's multifaceted themes. For The Wholehearted, the layering of spectatorship resists a simple reading of the play as just about boxing, just about trauma, or just about queer expression; it enables each audience member to view the narrative through different mediated lenses, permitting them to identify with any or all of the disparate themes that speak to their own interests or circumstances. In this way, the layering of spectatorship acts as a Brechtian device in which the audience cannot simply sympathize with the protagonist but are given agency to identify with multiple characters, points of view, and thematic elements.

Conceived and created by Stein|Holum Projects, The Wholehearted is a one woman show that tackles the dual nature of violence and celebrity status among athletes within our mediated culture. Written and directed by Deborah Stein and performed and directed by Suli Holum, the play centers on Dee Crosby (Holum), a professional female boxer, and her journey of redemption as she attempts to reconnect with her former love while seeking revenge from her ex-husband for domestic assault. Using a mixture of video recordings and costume changes, spectators are carried back and forth through time, discovering the past while tangibly being witness to its effects in the present. …

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