Plague and mirror: Metaphors of emotional transfer and their effect on the actor-audience relationship in theatre

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Title: Plague and mirror: Metaphors of emotional transfer and their effect on the actor-audience relationship in theatre
Author: Vrtis, Robert James, 1980-
Abstract: In the last two decades the discovery of mirror neurons led to a flurry of investigations into the role these action recognition cells play in a range of interpersonal exchanges, including emotional transfer. The ability of one person to "infect" another with emotion through their actions, sounds, and words should be no surprise to a theatre practitioner. Indeed, this ability seems like a theatrical given: both the primary purpose and central difficulty of performance. Yet, while this ability may be a theatrical given, it is under-examined. Prompted by the surge of studies into mirror neurons in recent years, this dissertation provides a framework for discussing and analyzing emotional communication in the theatre. Specifically, this study focuses on emotional transfer between actors and audience and how theatre practitioners metaphorically construct this transfer. While there are many potential metaphors that can describe this emotional exchange, two metaphors frequently persist in theatre: metaphors of infection and reflection. Locating these metaphors as employed by a theatrical practitioner or theorist to describe the emotional exchange between actors and audience is an important step in illuminating the expected acting style, the relationship an actor must seek with the audience, and the function of emotions in theatre. Once these guiding metaphors are located they must be understood in that artist's cultural context, as a part of the emotional values and norms of expression of their historical moment. This understanding provides nuance to our understanding of a single metaphor's distinctly different use by different artists. This dissertation begins by examining metaphors of infection at two distinctly different historical and cultural moments. These chapters illuminate the function of metaphor in shaping the early modern theatre of William Shakespeare and the theatre of plague proposed by Antonin Artaud. Chapter IV will bring to bear on acting theory the science that could explain emotional transfer and its inherent metaphor of reflection, demonstrating how cognitive studies and theatre can productively interact. Finally, this dissertation outlines how theatrical practices can be more fully understood by analyzing the metaphorical structures that practitioners use to shape the emotional relationship between actor and audience.
Description: ix, 181 p.
Date: 2011-06

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