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Two types of presence:

'In theatrical parlance, presence usually refers either to the relationship between actor and audience - the actor as manifestation before an audience - or, more specifically, to the actor's psychophysical attractiveness to the audience, a concept related to that of charisma.' (Auslander, 1992: 37)


'we see presence as a bridge across disciplines' (Biocca, 2001: 546)

The cyborg's dilemma:

‘The pursuit of presence and the telecommunication of the body pushes a tight coupling of the physical body and the computer interface. (…) Obversing the day-to-day movements of our consciousness between the experience of our unmediated body and our mediated virtual bodies, we may come to ask: Where am “I” present?’ (Biocca, 1997, original emphasis)


'I've been wondering about definitions of liveness. Auslander seems to take it for granted that we know what it is, and I suppose we do. But I sat down yesterday to try to come to grips with it, and, well, I'm confused.

My first instinct was to go for some sort of spatio-temporal simultaneity. I exist in a localized point in space and time, which also happens to be the the same one as whatever performance I happen to be watching. This seems to privilege the physicality of the performers as the core of performance's ontology. And our own presence.

Am I happy with this...? I don't know. Physical presence isn't a given either. I can be here as in being here in this room. I can be here divorced from my body. I can be-in-the-world (grin). I can be here and have no memory of it (as in Freudian trauma in real time). And then of course there's issues with being in the present, which I've never quite been able to understand. The present as real-time experience is easy enough to get, but as Nietzche mentioned, we experience the present tangled with memories of the past (individual and social), with hopes and expectations for the future. We experience sensory data with (I'm convinced) a time lag between the actual perception and its cognition. The only real alternative to this is a zen-like conception of the present as simply inhabiting a spatio-temporal point.

Thinking about this might be important because of new mediatized live performances -- virtual reality being the obvious one. Although here the ontology of the environment in which we occupy a spatio-temporal location becomes crucial to its liveness. And then again, there's now the possibility of live interaction with mediatized (computerized?) entities. Is that considered live? Here I'm reminded of Blade Runner, and problematizing what it is to be human, and its repercussion for what it is to be live.

I also spent almost two hours last night trying to find out what makes Ruby tick. What does that mean?'

(The above abstracts are from a contribution to the Critical Studies in New Media Seminar at Stanford [link] - I thought that, as usual, Castellucci was so eloquent and original that his comment needs to be reproduced in full in this section.)


And what is it precisely about an actor's presence-whether live or on screen-that commands our attention? Is presence the ability to project a fictional "character" into the second balcony or is it just the opposite: the performer's ability to strip herself of protean, fictional fabrication and reveal her "authentic" self (as Joe Chaikin seems to advocate in his book The Presence of the Actor 1972). In his Open Theater production, The Mutation Show (1971)~ the actors compared their onstage faces to photographs of their younger, offstage faces. Carl Dreyer, commenting on Falconnetti's extraordinary performance in his 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc (in which the actress wore no makeup) said she was the only performer he knew who went to work by taking off her makeup. Presence in this sense becomes a badge of unchallengeable authenticity (and, of course, a key concept for the decade of the 1960s). Ethel Merman singing "Rose's Turn" in Gypsy (1959) and Chris Burden nonchalantly having himself shot in the arm (Shoot, 1971) embody two very different-but equally distinctive-modes of living presence. Perhaps this is the sort of difference Lionel Trilling (197.2) had in mind when he traced the transition from the social ideal of sincerity to that of authenticity: the former assumes a correspondence-one that can never really be validated- between what the audience sees and what the performer is presumed to experience inwardly. "To thine own (or the character's) self be true." The latter confronts the perceiver with a certifiably nonfictional situation.' (Copeland, 1988: 33)


‘The notion of theatrical Presence has two fundamental components: the unique self-completion of the world of the spectacle, and the circle of heightened awareness flowing from actor to spectator and back that sustains the world. (The magnetism that a particular performer may exude, what we mean when we say a performer has “presence,” is included in this definition.) The physico-spiritual “aura” of theatrical presence, to use Benjamin’s term, may always have been an effect of theatre, but became an absolute value only as recently as the late sixties and early seventies, perhaps because its loss was already sighted.’ (Fuchs, 1985: 163f)

‘Even before Presence fell into disfavor as a theatrical value, its theoretical base was being submitted to relentless interrogation in the work of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. (…) To Derrida, there is no primordial or self-same present that is not already infiltrated by the trace - an opening of the “inside” of the moment to the “outside” of the interval. “That the present in general is not primal, but rather, reconstituted, that it is not the absolute, wholly living form which constitutes experience, that there is no purity of the living present” is the theme running through every textual exegesis Derrida has made. (…) “Trace-structure, everything always inhabited by the trace of something that is not itself, questions presence-structure.” (ibid.:165)

‘Theatre is ever the presence of the absence and the absence of the presence. Both are component in its every motion, but until recently its motions have taken place within phonocentric limits. One might say that we have been witnessing in contemporary theatre, and especially in performance, a representation of the failure of the theatrical enterprise of spontaneous speech with its logocentric claims to origination, authority, authenticity - in short, Presence. This motion amounts to a virtual deconstruction of the defining hierarchy that has sustained theatre since the Renaissance.’ (ibid.: 172)


’1. Presence as social richness

(…) is the extent to which a medium is perceived as sociable, warm, sensitive, personal or intimate when it is used to interact with other people. Social presence theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976) and media richness theory (Rice, 1992) were developed to better match communication media and organizational tasks to maximize efficiency and satisfaction. (…)

Presence as social richness is related to two important concepts originally applied to nonmediated interpersonal communication: intimacy and immediacy. (…) (T)he list of intimacy behaviors (…) include(s) posture and arm position, trunk and body orientation, gestures, facial expressions, body relaxation, touching, laughter, speech duration, voice quality, laughter, olfactory cues, and others (…). A medium high in presence as social richness allows interactants to adjust more of these variables and therefore more precisely adjust the overall level of intimacy. (C)hoices of language can help create a sense of psychological closeness or immediacy. Others have suggested that intimacy behaviors (e.g., Hackman & Walker, 1990) and even the choice of a medium for interaction (e.g., Heilbronn & Libby, 1973) also influence this sense of immediacy.

2. Presence as realism

(…) concerns the degree to which a medium can produce seemingly accurate representations of objects, events, and people -- representations that look, sound, and/or feel like the "real" thing. This conceptualization is typically used by human factors engineers to assess consumers' responses to variations in the characteristics of a medium. (…) This conceptualization of presence is often used in a vague manner that fails to distinguish between two key types of "realism," which are here termed "social realism" and "perceptual realism." Social realism is the extent to which a media portrayal is plausible or "true to life" in that it reflects events that do or could occur in the nonmediated world (…). While presence as realism may include this type of social realism it also includes a perceptual element that is separate: a scene from a science fiction program may be low in social realism but high in perceptual realism because although the events portrayed are unlikely, the objects and people in the program look and sound as one would expect if they did in fact exist. (…)

3. Presence as transportation

(…) Three distinct types of transportation can be identified: "You are there," in which the user is transported to another place; "It is here," in which another place and the objects within it are transported to the user; and "We are together," in which two (or more) communicators are transported together to a place that they share.    4. Presence as immersion

(…) emphasizes the idea of perceptual and psychological immersion. Biocca and Levy (1995) note that in the most compelling virtual reality experiences, the senses are immersed in the virtual world; the body is entrusted to a reality engine. The eyes are covered by a head-mounted display; the real world is invisible. The ears are covered by headphones; ambient sound is muffled. The hands are covered by gloves or props: 'touch only the virtual bodies.' (…) Perceptual immersion, "the degree to which a virtual environment submerges the perceptual system of the user" (Biocca & Delaney, 1995, p. 57), can be objectively measured by counting the number of the users' senses that are provided with input and the degree to which inputs from the physical environment are "shut out" (see Kim, 1996). (…) Presence as immersion also includes a psychological component. When users feel immersive presence they are involved (Palmer, 1995), absorbed (Quarrick, 1989), engaged, engrossed. This psychological state typically is best measured via subject self-report (…).

5. Presence as social actor within medium

(…) In a parasocial interaction media users respond to social cues presented by persons they encounter within a medium even though it is illogical and even inappropriate to do so. (…) The mediated nature of the "interaction" is ignored and the media personality is incorrectly perceived as a social actor. In all of these examples (virtual actors, Tamagotchi, etc., note of the editor) users' perceptions and the resulting psychological processes lead them to illogically overlook the mediated or even artificial nature of an entity within a medium and attempt to interact with it; this phenomenon represents a fifth type of presence.

6. Presence as medium as social actor

(…) involves social responses of media users not to entities (people or computer characters) within a medium, but to cues provided by the medium itself. (…) (B)ecause computers use natural language, interact in real time, and fill traditionally social roles (e.g., bank teller and teacher), even experienced computer users tend to respond to them as social entities. In most of these studies a social psychology finding concerning human-human interaction is replicated in the context of human-computer interaction.

Presence Explicated

Although the conceptualizations discussed above vary considerably, they share a central idea. Each represents one or more aspects of what we define here formally as presence: the perceptual illusion of nonmediation. The term "perceptual" indicates that this phenomenon involves continuous (real time) responses of the human sensory, cognitive, and affective processing systems to objects and entities in a person's environment. An "illusion of nonmediation" occurs when a person fails to perceive or acknowledge the existence of a medium in his/her communication environment and responds as he/she would if the medium were not there. Although in one sense all of our experiences are mediated by our intrapersonal sensory and perceptual systems, "nonmediated" here is defined as experienced without human-made technology (note that under this definition even hearing aids and eyeglasses are media that "come between" our environment and our perceptual system).’ (Lombard and Ditton, 1997)


Presence is Doubt

'Beckett's Waiting for Godot erases the distinction between stage players and stage watchers. Both wait for the spectacle of presence wondering if they've missed it. Perhaps they are seated in the wrong place, perhaps they come on the wrong night, perhaps they are too little or too much, perhaps their shoes are too tight and distracting, perhaps when they were playing with Lucky and Pozzo they should have been looking for Godot. Maybe they did see him but they can't remember for sure. So they ask someone. In Beckett's imagination, the mimetic stand-in for the critic, the subject supposed to know, is a little boy.' (Phelan, 1993: 14-15)

'Beckett makes clear that presence is doubt; presence is impossible without doubt; doubt is the signature of presence, rather than the security of re-presentation.' (Phelan, 1993: 15)

'Theatre continually marks the perpetual disappearance of its own enactment.' (Phelan, 1993: 15)

The Live Body

'Since Stanislavski, when actors are observed carefully and perform well, they are said to have "presence". The actor achieves presence through performing as if another.' (Phelan, 1993: 117)

'Performance implicates the real through the presence of living bodies.' (Phelan, 1993: 148)

Presence as a promise

'Presence is theatre's promise as well as its doubt, and in this theatre imitates love and its illusions. Rehearsing to create Presence always already compromises its power, makes it a trick (...)'. (Phelan, 1993: 121)


‘Presence is the response to a given level of immersion (and it only really makes sense when there are two competing systems – one typically the real world, and the other the technology delivering a given immersive system.)’

‘Presence arises from an appropriate conjunction of the human perceptual and motor system and immersion.’ (Slater 2003)


'if we react as if the external world is only imaginary we will not survive long (think of this the next time you cross a busy street). And if we think that what we are merely imagining is actually happening, we may only omit to carry out basic activities on which our survival depends. We are suggesting that presence is the feeling that evolution has given us to make thia vital distinction.' (2003)


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