Role play

Historically, Theatre has been a tool for transmitting the moral and behavioural teachings of belief systems but also for expression, experimentation and challenging societal norms: Communicating human stories and experience via differing means depending on the historical and contextual function.

Whether producer or audience, there are both passive and active forms of participation. Meanings are not fixed, they are informed by cultural understanding that can be either reinforced or interrogate. Theatron’s recent conference Engaging Society – Theatre & Politics on and off stage  champions the latter role.


Programming artistic content such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, may make us more overtly aware of the collective conscious, conscience and memory, ones own susceptibility to irrational and unconscious response. Locally staged productions refer to global issues and/or share personal stories, self-expression and create greater empathy and understanding. In art, there may be dialogue around contested issues, communicating the subtler factors surrounding these. DV8 Physical Theatre’s performances do this very successfully.

Agosto Boal prioritises the body in Theatre. The body of prehuman Xua Xua is where it was found. In his fable, Xua Xua’s devastation at the separation of her newly born son’s body from her own was only overcome by playing acceptance of this now separate being ‘she was at one and the same time Actor and Spectator. She was Spect-Actor’ (1992). For Boal, theatre can create spaces of liberty.

Making the physical virtual, new media is in the ideal forum for game and role play – but prioritises mind over body. The digital domain also provides a forum to engage a far wider audience.

While television creates distance between the performer and audience,’new media is fundamentally interactive’. Lievrouw says in Alternative and Activist New Media (2014) ‘Use is an action by definition, which may encourage new media users toward more involved social and cultural participation online and off….[there is a] much shorter step from use/interaction to participation than from exposure/reception to participation.’

Morozov may bemoan the degree to which tech logic has infiltrated popular imagination, but social context inform these developments and not all games are made equal; if the rules and scenario matter… so too does environment.

There are advantages and disadvantages of these activities playing out across both physical and virtual environments. The Report ‘Blogs and Bullets’ by Aday et al. highlights the need for rigorous analysis of New Media and contentious politics, focussing on:

  • Case selection
  • Counterfactuals
  • Hidden variables
  • Causal mechanisms
  • System effects
  • New media outlet selection
  • Strategic interaction

Aday’s guidelines can be applied to either forum but this needn’t be a case of either/or. Online forums enable extensive dialogue about these ‘off-line’ experiences, raise awareness and encourage participation.

But there’s a place for lo-tech and a place for hi-tech,  not everything is enhanced on-screen.



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