Staging Atmospheres – Theatre and the Atmospheric Turn

Staging Atmospheres – Theatre and the Atmospheric Turn

The Department of Drama at Queen Mary University of London is pleased to announce Staging Atmospheres – Theatre and the Atmospheric Turn a two-day conference and workshop, Friday 8th and Saturday 9th December 2017, generously sponsored by the International Ambiances Network.

Staging Atmospheres presents an interdisciplinary interrogation of the place of theatre in the understanding of ‘atmosphere’. Within the current interdisciplinary atmospheric turn, theatre has presented itself as an heuristic paradigm in which the social, material and political elements of atmosphere are thought to resonate – albeit in an idealised manner. ‘Theatre’ has been adopted as a paradigm of the site and operation of ‘atmosphere’ by philosophers and architectural theorists from Vitruvius to Gernot Böhme. Why does the theatre present itself as such an acute example of what Jean-Paul Thibaud has termed the ‘affective tonality’ of aesthetic experience? Böhme’s ‘The Art of the Stage Set’ has become a key text concerning the production and reception of atmosphere, whilst his concern for theatrical design finds earlier echoes in classical concerns for theatre architecture, and those of Sebastiano Serlio and Leone di Somme in the Italian renaissance. Notwithstanding the particularities of their historical contexts, these models similarly assume an idealised atmospheric efficacy of space and design, and eschew direct discussion of performance per se.

The convenors ask: how stable is this paradigm as it departs from the specificities and exigencies of theatrical practice? What might the extended mode and model of ‘performance’ with which theatre studies has conducted a sustained enquiry over more than half a century, add to other disciplinary studies of ‘atmosphere’? The questions of how and where atmosphere inheres, and what generates, informs and influences it within performance situations, have not yet been consistently addressed. This conference presents the opportunity to tackle both the abstract and paradigmatic as well as the concrete and specific in order to produce more profound understandings of the operation and significance of ‘atmosphere’ both within and without the theatre.

The concern with ‘atmosphere’ intersects with overlapping sites of emergent inquiry in the academy including studies of mood, affect and histories of emotion, as well as ecocritical and climatological theory. Theatre studies, like any number of academic enquiries, cannot avoid the complex and pressing ecological context of anthrogenic climate change, and its implications for what Böhme has termed ‘ecological aesthetics’ (1993) as well as the aerological aspects of human being and sociality (Adey 2014). How, when, and why theatre and atmosphere should be considered in relation to these wider political and environmental concerns forms a critical keystone of this event, not least given the extent to which theatre is held up as emblematic of the artificial or manmade.

To this effect, keynote speakers from philosophy and theatre studies have been secured to offer disciplinary way-points and context for the discussion. The conference organisers are keen to encourage dialogue amongst artists and academics across a range of disciplines beyond theatre and performance studies and internationally. We invite all participants to play with ideas as well as presenting them. Participation will be strictly capped at forty participants. Not all participants will present papers, but expressions of interest must be submitted to secure a place. Although we will only be able to programme a limited number of papers, all participants will be actively involved in discussions and events over both days.

The conference fee is £25 with provision for postgraduate bursaries on application. The conference fee includes a ticket to a major London theatre event on the evening of Friday 8th December. This will inform discussion in the workshop on Saturday 9th December.

The proceedings of the first day will see a series of papers that lay out emerging themes and lines of enquiry that we will workshop together in dialogue and experiments in theatrical practice on the second day. The convenors welcome the submission of abstracts for papers (300 words max), but also seek the participation of a range of scholars and artists in discussions and events. There is some provision for translating non-English papers.

Themes and lines of enquiry include but are not limited to: lighting, sound, acoustics, gesture, audience and spectatorship, theatre and auditorium design, access, circulation, air and the aerological, ventilation, breath, smell and odour, temperature, aura, craft, the actor-audience relationship, history, reconstruction, sociality, antagonism, the relational, the institutional, the non-human, the non-atmospheric, the open-air, weather, the digital, social media and atmosphere, failure, the accidental, translation between English, European, and non-Western languages and concepts.

If you are interested in presenting a paper please email 300 word abstracts to If you are interested in attending as a participant, rather than a speaker, please email a 300 word outline of your interests as they relate to the conference topic. Numbers are limited, and we may not be able to meet every request for participation as we try and build a dialogue around a range of international and interdisciplinary perspectives. These outlines will be circulated amongst participants in advance as a means of developing dialogue.

The conference organisers are also interested in hearing from colleagues who may be unable to attend, but who share interests in the field or enquiry outlined above. We are planning to develop further opportunities for discussion, practice and presentation in relation to what we perceive to be a growing area of interdisciplinary interest.

Deadline for abstracts and participation requests: 5th October 2017

Invited speakers:

Prof. Tonino Griffero (Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”)
Prof. Carl Lavery (University of Glasgow)