Global Humanities Junior Research and Teaching Stay at the Johns Hopkins University
December 2016 - February 2017
Acts of Listening / Acts of Empathy – The aesthetics of sound in contemporary theatre
Theatre is often thought of as a place of seeing. This project instead focuses on hearing and the role of sound in recent theatrical performance. Obviously, hearing has always been an important element of theatrical performance. Renaissance audiences went to “hear a play” rather than see it. Nevertheless, the dominance of the visual both in theory and practice over the last century or so, has pushed the question of hearing into the background. Today, new sound technologies, the rising interest in podcasts, oral histories, voice studies, and immersive theatre practices themselves move sound and hearing back into the spotlight and allow us to investigate the aural tradition of theatre afresh. Theatre companies such as the British Complicité or the theatre ensemble Sound and Fury have created a new aesthetics of story-telling, soundscapes and aurality in performance that intermingle techniques of the radio and the stage play and thus reshape the role of the audience as mental co-creators of the performance work. On another level, “hearing a play” refocuses the attention from visual spectacle to the words and/as music, and the role of dialogue and communication more generally.
By investigating the aural tradition of the theatre as it relates to contemporary performance practices, I also seek to open up the discussion of aesthetics and ethics, which in the case of theories of aurality is intrinsically related to theories of affect and empathy. Empathy has become an outmoded term at the very least since Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre which has cast empathy as something of an infantile audience response that needed to replaced by intellectual contemplation. However, today’s global political crises that have led to displacement and migration at an unprecedented scale require us to rethink the role of empathy in artistic as well as social life and demand from us to cease being passive observers and turn into active listeners.
Ramona Mosse is a Lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the Free University Berlin. Previously, she was a Junior Fellow at Free University’s International Research Center „Interweaving Performance Cultures.“ She holds an MA (Hons) in English Literature from Edinburgh University and a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Together with Minou Arjomand, Ramona is the co-editor of Erika Fischer-Lichte’s Routledge Introduction to Theater and Performance Studies (Routledge 2014). She has published both journal and book articles on the relationship of philosophy and theatre, metatheatre, and tragedy. Ramona also is a Co-Convenor of the Performance Philosophy Network’s Working Group “Genres of Dramatic Thought”, which engages with the interrelationship between thinking and theatre. In her practical theatre work as a dramaturg and translator both in the USA and Germany, Ramona has focused particularly on the staging and adaptation of classical tragedies.