Cognitive Approaches to Audience and Emotion: Historical Perspectives

Tuesday 28th October 2014, University of Kent

Dr. Angeliki Varakis-Martin, ‘Positive Emotion and Cognition in the Spectating of Aristophanic Comedy’

What can positive psychology tell us about the ancient audience’s experience of Aristophanic comedy? Drawing on research in the field of cognitive science which has shown that ‘thinking’ is not detached from emotion I shall argue that comic laughter, as an embodied experience, does not disrupt concentration but instead facilitates a different and more broadened mode of attention which affects the way in which theatre audiences perceive their surrounding environment. In the context of Aristophanic theatre, a broadening of attention would have facilitated audiences to experience the comedy of Aristophanes as an expansive and unpredictable world. This was in tune with the ‘openess’ of Aristophanic comedy as expressed through its discontinuous narrative, multiplicity of action and ‘re-creative’ characters.

Prof. Robert Shaughnessy, ‘Connecting the Globe: Actors, Audience and Entrainment’ One of the least anticipated aspects of the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside since it opened in 1997 has been its radical redefinition of the actor-audience relationship. The Globe’s characteristic mode of buttonholing give-and-take between actor and spectator, in the context of a visible, demonstrative and collectively-minded audience, is generally agreed to be its most involving, challenging and, much more debatably, ‘authentic’ feature. More than that, performers testify to the experience of feeling at once ‘as one’ with their audiences and deeply challenged by them, to extraordinary levels of arousal coupled with potentially overwhelming levels of exposure and risk. My paper addresses this aspect of Globe performance as a theatrical example of group entrainment, involving both behavioural synchrony and emotional contagion. In particular, I examine actors’ accounts of their work that explore how the Globe experiment is not only a shared game but also a struggle for control.

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