New Dramaturgies

5–6pm / Oct 6 / Elebash Hall

Cognitive Science and Performance

Amy Cook

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Cognitive Science and Performance: All works of art presume a theory of the body/brain that will consume or interact with the work; the cognitive sciences provide rich material for artists challenging old forms and old stories. Cook’s research has focused on how findings from the cognitive sciences illuminate the performances we find compelling and emotional. Cook will discuss how research in cognitive linguistics and the science of gestures alters what we look at when we ask if a scene is making sense. She will then talk about how casting can be understood as a cognitive process, one each of us engages in when we separate Hamlet from Horatio, our doctor from our bus driver. Few things mark the body as visibly as race and gender; Cook reports on the counter casting in productions like Hamilton and all-female productions of Shakespeare. A strategic attention to performances—in fiction or in life—that don’t seem right, that stretch, extend, or break what seems like the right casting, allows us to see casting as a way to blur or transform categories.

Amy Cook is an Associate Professor in English and the Chair of Stony Brook University’s Art Department. Cook specializes in the intersection of cognitive science and theatre with particular attention to Shakespeare and contemporary performance. Her book, Building Character: The Art and Science of Casting (University of Michigan Press, 2018), was published in March. She has also published Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance through Cognitive Science, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and Theatre, Performance and Cognition: Languages, Bodies and Ecologies (Methuen, 2016), co-edited with Rhonda Blair. She has written about the work of dreamthinkspeak’s site-responsive work in London, Phillida Lloyd’s all-female Shakespeare, Target Margin’s Mourning Becomes Electra, The Wooster Group’s Hamlet, Sleep No More, War Horse, and Pig Iron Theatre Company’s Shuteye.

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