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An Exploration of  Theatrical Design's

Emotional Stimulus

What happens when we remove the live human performer from the heart of the performance and design is brought to the forefront of the conversation? 


Through my time training and working in theatre in Victoria, B.C, I noticed that the performances at the University of Victoria and within the surrounding Vancouver Island theatre community have repeatedly proved that our traditional theatrical practice is focused the performer; the other theatrical elements support their emotional journey.  The elements of performance design, such as sound, lighting, and set, create the world around the performer and yet, their impact often goes unnoticed by the audience. In my research project EVOKE, I set out to explore ways in which performance design alone can tell a story, transform the atmosphere and environment, and have the equivalent emotional impact on the audience as an actor through the creation of this immersive design installation. 

In order to explore the emotional impact of performance design, the five stages of grief became the emotional basis of the installation because of the unique blend of the universal and idiosyncratic characteristics the emotional journey of grief has to offer.  The diverse set of the emotions associated with the five stages of grief will be used in EVOKE to challenge the audiences’ perception of emotion within a performance space.  By using performance design as the principal story-telling technique, the end goal is for the audience to be immersed in all elements of the design installation, and as a result, feel the atmosphere and environment transform around them through the five stages of grief. 


The creation of EVOKE was theorized and formed through research on spatial, semiotic, and affect theories, such as the research of Erin Hurley. In addition, the examination of both traditional scenography in Canada and the contemporary immersive performance practices informed how different audience theories can be materialized within the installation.  The study of these different theories and concepts, theatre companies, performances, and designers influenced the formation of the audience interaction with the design and how EVOKE will approach and build a relationship with the audience.  With the goal of exploring performance design outside of its traditional confines, EVOKE aims to promote a dialogue about the impact of scenography and performance design, and the ways in which contemporary practitioners are challenging the traditional parameters of the discipline.

  EVOKE was presented February 20-21, 2020 in the Barbara McIntyre Theatre at the University of Victoria.  The immersive installation was a 10-minute looping performance of sound, lights, projections and set and allowed for audience to enter or exit between each loop. Each day had two performance time slots and over the two days over 100 people went through the installation. 


Created by Olivia Wheeler 

Set and Sound Design by Olivia Wheeler

Lighting and Projection Design by Glen Shafer

Supervised by Patrick Du Wors and Sasha Kovacs

Photos by Annie Konstantinova

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