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(Im)mediate Spectating:

Hypermediacy, Telepresence, Fandom, and Digital Ghosts

Saturday, June 26, 2021 | 9:30 - 11:00

Live panel on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event.


Join Now in Room D

Re-embodying (digital) ghosts as posthuman figures on stage and page

Caitlin Gowans, University of Toronto

The meeting’s host is frozen in place but she’s no longer there. She’s gone to fix her router so that the meeting can continue without glitches but her image, her digital ghost, remains present. Of course, none of us are really “there” to begin with. The digital medium of the meeting apes our collected presence while insisting that we are live and yet reminds us that we are not and cannot be together. Beyond frustrating our attempts to gather during extraordinary times, these glitches that relieve the way that digital mediums ghost our presence rhyme with the way that we understand ghosts on stage.

In this paper I will argue for the precarious presence of ghosts on page and on stage, embodied by live actors, as blueprints for embodiment that N Katherine Hayle calls for as an inherent quality of the posthuman as well as the meaning of matter and mattering of meaning put forward by Karen Barad.

debbie tucker green’s plays are haunted by ghosts who ache to be present with the living characters on stage. The ancestors in truth and reconciliation witness their descendants at the sites of genocide and civil war while the ghosts in a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), displaced by both the grammar of the title and their precarious presence, look for ways to make a human connection while being both present and absent. By encountering these spirits, I will investigate what theatrical ghosting of the human and posthuman can tell us about our own digital ghosting.


Caitlin Gowans is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama Theatre and Performance Studies. Her dissertation is about posthuman performances of identity in contemporary drama at the Royal Court Theatre in London, UK.

Fan Forums, Archival Practices and Cultural Memory

Sean Robertson-Palmer, York University

This paper traces how digital fan forums became important spaces for the preservation and contestation of battle rap’s cultural memory during the COVID-19 pandemic. Investigating the proliferation of fan-driven content that emerged as stay-at-home orders were issued in Canada throughout 2020, I position the practice of uploading, sharing and adjudicating battle rap content as a repertoire of translocal fan labour. This fan labour adapts the traditions of battle rap to suit its digital context, and collaboratively yields social, pedagogical and performative outcomes. It is my assertion that the strength of fan forums lies in its ability to create new, resilient modes of engagement that allow battle rap culture to survive in the absence of live events.

Through the acts of posting and critiquing digital content, fans map the history of battle rap culture and its contemporary practices, while navigating complicated intercultural discourses concerning race, gender and free speech. Fans create and disseminate meaning within the context of battle rap forums through their detailed analysis of the politics and aesthetics embedded in fan-driven content. The perpetual co-production and contestation of battle rap’s digital discourses prevents a singular hegemonic narrative from emerging, thus usurping the hierarchies that are present in traditional archival practices.


Sean Robertson-Palmer is currently a CLA Sessional Assistant Professor in the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University in Toronto, Canada, where he specializes in devised theatre, digital performance and theatre history. Sean is also an interdisciplinary performer whose work has been seen at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto's Nuit Blanche and the Summerworks Festival. His writing on music, pop culture and fashion has been featured in GQ Magazine, and his writing on Hip Hop performance and fandom is featured in the upcoming anthology Hip Hop Archives: The Politics and Poetics of Knowledge Production, edited by Mark V. Campbell and Murray Forman.

Together-apart: hypermediacy and theatricality in the Zoom theatre production The Tempest

Lin Chen, University of Exeter

While many theatre companies are struggling for survival during the COVID-19 pandemic, an innovative production of The Tempest became a surprising hit. This abridged version of Shakespeare’s work, co-created by Creation Theatre from Oxford, England and Big Telly from Northern Ireland, is performed live via the video-conferencing platform Zoom. A major factor that might account for its success is that the production creates a sense of community on the virtual space for performers and audiences who are physically apart during lockdown. Yet instead of attempting to conjure an illusion of togetherness of the pre-COVID normalcy, the piece heightens the awareness of physical isolation in the current reality. Thus, how can the seeming paradox of connectivity and separation be reconciled? This paper contends that it is because Creation and Big Telly adopt an overt theatrical approach over cinematic language while embracing the logic of hypermediacy in its use of digital platform. By establishing the theatrical spectator-performer contract that acknowledges the duality of the theatrical and the real, and transferring the contract to the virtual media, the production balances the juxtaposition of the mediatised togetherness and the material apartness.


Lin Chen is a PhD candidate in the Department of Drama at University of Exeter. Her research examines the interplay between the theatrical frame and digital media in online performances made during Covid-19. She holds an MA in Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies from University of Warwick.

Recovering Connection through Telepresence

Naomi P. Bennett, Louisiana State University

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders that swept the globe in early 2020 many individuals turned to video conferencing tools like zoom to fill their need for human connection. Business, education, and entertainment industries found creative ways to adapt while friends and loved ones separated by geographic distance found each other in virtual space. Fueled by necessity and the need to recover a sense of connection, online performances strived to include interactive elements to compensate for this experience of loneliness.

This paper will investigate three performances built around an acknowledgement of the loneliness of isolation: The Telelibrary, an interactive telephone performance by Yannick Trapman-O'brien; Play in Your Bathtub, an interactive auditory performance for isolation directed by This is Not a Theatre Company’s Erin Mee; and dist[Sense], a virtual experience of physical touch created by the author to connect in Zoom Space. Each of these three performances uses sense connection to engage a single audience-participant in an experience of intimate connection that is simultaneously together and apart. Through individual connection with the audience-participant, each of these performances is able to redefine connection in its own way, using telepresence to create new possibilities for intimate connection through distance.


Naomi Bennett, PhD, MFA, is a scholar, educator, and sometimes performer based in Baton Rouge, LA USA. Her current research and artistic practice is in the creation of interactive performance works that physically engage embodied experience via computer-mediated technology. Through this entanglement of physical and virtual, Bennett’s work seeks to activate senses of touch, sight, and proprioception through traditionally disembodied mediums.