October 27, 2015: Elise Morrison

Remote/CTRL: Theatrical Responses to Digital Warfare

As martial investments in drones and other remote-controlled forms of surveillance and lethal weaponry increase each year, contemporary warfare has come to resemble (and even depend upon for training soldiers) “first-person shooter” video games. Virtualized, remote images of battle are contained within screenal interfaces that simulate, but also cleanse and limit the multivalent realities and “lingering destruction” of war. As these frames both enact and hold “war at a distance,” the need to use theatrical representation to help audiences think and act with empathy across the remote distances, political differences, and cultural divides of post-9/11 warfare has become all the more urgent. This presentation analyzes several recent theatrical works that reimagine screenal interfaces of war as sites through which to create empathetic understanding across the great divides and distances of contemporary warfare. In particular, I look at George Brant’s Grounded (2012), Christine Evans’ You Are Dead. You are Here. (2013), and Wafaa Bilal’s Domestic Tension (2007) for the ways they employ digital interfaces to at once reference and counteract the desensitizing and distancing effects of remotely controlled, digitally rendered warfare. Through a range of representational strategies, these works attempt to stage screenal interfaces of war as sites of intersubjective identification and communication that might instead facilitate ethical and empathetic understanding.

Elise Morrison received her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from Brown University in 2011. Her book project, Discipline and Desire: Surveillance Technologies in Performance, forthcoming from University of Michigan Press, focuses on artists who strategically employ technologies of surveillance to create performances that pose new and different ways of interacting with and understanding apparatuses of surveillance. Morrison has published on this topic in International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media (IJPADM), Theater Magazine, and TDR. She recently edited a special issue on “Surveillance Technologies in Performance” for IJPADM (Routledge: Fall 2015, 11.2), where she has served on the editorial board since 2010 and previously co-edited a special issue on “Digital Performance and Pedagogy” in Fall 2012. Prior to coming to Yale, Elise worked as Associate Director for Speaking Instruction at Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. As a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Interdisciplinary Performance Studies at Yale (IPSY) from 2012-2015, Elise taught courses on Digital media in performance, Feminist theater and performance, Surveillance and society, and Public speaking. As the new Director for Undergraduate Studies for Theater Studies at Yale, Elise continues to teach these courses and to convene the Performance Studies Working Group.

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