All posts by Ulf Otto

Computational Theater Studies (CTS) #1: video/annotation

LMU Munich, Institute for Theater Studies, 4.- 6. October 2023,
organized by Ulf Otto (LMU Munich), Nora Probst (Univ. Cologne)

Live or not, the theater of today is shared, negotiated and remembered within digital cultures, inevitably being turned into data and subjected to computation.

Accordingly, theater research is confronted with digitalization not only as a topic and a framework of contemporary performances, but also as an epistemological game changer, potentially decentering canonical narratives, or on the contrary reinforcing older academic biases with newly industrial ones. Increasingly digital tools and computational approaches, already established in related disciplines, become employed by theater scholars, necessitating both a methodological exploration and a critical reflection of the changing epistemic technologies and related research practices. How to make sense of performance data?

Following up on a virtual workshop series we organized in 2022, we will address these issues by initiating a new hybrid series of workshops that will foster international and interdisciplinary exchange. We will bring together a small group of theater scholars with colleagues from neighboring disciplines like Film Studies and Art History on the one hand, and Computer Science and Machine Learning on the other. With this we are pursuing a trifold aim: to connect questions, approaches, and results of individual research projects, to collaboratively explore tools and practices hands-on and to explore possibilities for ensuing cooperation. For that aim, each workshop will focus on one specific data type and compile a corresponding data set, that will be shared among participants six months in advance for preparatory exploration and as a hands-on reference point during the workshop.

CTS#1 will open the series with a focus on performance recordings and explore how to make sense of video data from a Theater Studies point of view. Its focus will lie on practices of annotation, the defaults of available tools, and the potential use of computer vision algorithms. In particular, three topics will be addressed:

  • Manual annotation as a research practice: what features, what segmentations, what vocabularies do different research agendas employ?
  • Evaluating and comparing annotations: what standards and formats can be used to share, merge and further analyze results?
  • Publishing and referencing videos: what forms of publications, data models, research infrastructures are needed to reference performance snippets?

The workshop will take place on site in Munich. If you are interest in joining us, please contact ulf.otto []

NEW: “Re-socializing emptied spaces: a queer-feminist performance, the theatrical apparatus and its (post)pandemic epistemology” (IJPADM)

International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media 19.1, doi: 10.1080/14794713.2023.2172523 – (FREE EPRINT)

The suspension of operations during lockdowns facilitated a new perspective on performance: the absent came to appear as a determining factor of not only the pandemic, but became evident as constitutive of late modern theater cultures. Based on a description of the lockdown performance A Room of Our Own (2021) by the feminist collective Swoosh Lieu, it is shown how contemporary practice is relocating performance within its entanglement with the social spaces of reproduction. Emphasizing the realities of exclusion that the performing arts rest upon, the paper argues against a theory of performance as an enclosed event of participation based on an idealized idea of the social as a homogeneous microcosm. It calls instead for an empirics of assembly, and more generally to question a thinking of performance along the lines of interaction and communication. Adopting Karen Barad’s concept of posthuman performativity to Theater Studies, it foregrounds the mediating function of performance in its articulation of the world and proposes to reconceptualize theater as an epistemological apparatus to invigorate a strong program of theater studies that refocuses on the socio-political real of theatricality.

NEW: “Post-performance: pandemic breach experiments, big theatre data, and the ends of theory” (TRI, open access)

Theater Research International (TRI) 48.1, S. 24-37, doi: 10.1017/S0307883322000384 (OPEN ACCESS)


All became data during the pandemic. Lockdowns made manifest what had developed for some time: that theatre has become inextricably entangled with digital cultures, the performing arts being increasingly encountered as a growing stock of multimodal fragments, textual discourses and networked communications. And, it is argued, it is precisely this appearance of theatre as (big) data that might prove to be the game-changer post-pandemic, and that this game-changer might be solely an epistemological one: what is known about theatre, how that knowledge is organized, and who is involved in organizing this knowledge, are rapidly changing. Based on an exemplary analysis of the discourses of legitimation that compensated for the loss of presence in German theatres, and the associated imperative to innovate production, this article estimates the epistemological consequences of theatre returns as data to advocate for a reconceptualization of theatre beyond performance.

“Rethinking Theater and Technology” [11.11.]- Presentation at the conference Diffractive World-Making (Bloomington)

Diffractive World-Making: Theatre & Science Beyond the Capitalocene

Indiana University Bloomington, Cook Center

November 10-12, 2022

Conference Organizers: Teresa Kovacs & Kevin Rittberger

Diffractive World-Making: Theatre & Science Beyond the Capitalocene starts from the smallest possible constellation: one playwright, one philosopher. Berlin-based playwright Kevin Rittberger meets feminist and philosopher of science Karen Barad. On the basis of Barad’s book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning and subsequent works, Rittberger explores the potential of a ‘diffractive theatre’ for our technoscientific age. At the same time, Barad explores our ‘troubled time/s’ and offers a queer, postcolonial critique that gives the impulse for our discussions on aesthetics and ethics. The initial encounter provides an opening through which to engage with concepts like response-ability and multi-species aesthetics, as well as with issues like colonialism, shrinking population, reproductive justice, and a critical theory for a damaged planet.

The conference itself takes up Barad’s method of diffraction and expands to an exceptional international cast of leading critics, artists, and theorists that think-with and nearby Barad and Rittberger, including McKenzie Wark, Rebecca Schneider, Tavia Nyong’o, Karin Harrasser, Ulf Otto, Bini Adamczak, Alison Calhoun, Penda Diouf, Luiza Prado, and Tzveta Kassabova.

Aim is not just to shed light on the entanglement of the sciences and aesthetics, but to demonstrate how productive it can be to read them through each other. In so doing, we can investigate their potential to radically rework established Western concepts and categories of causality, time, and space, and contribute to rethinking the troubled times in which we live.

Conference Program


Cook Center, IU Bloomington


Introduction by the conference organizers Teresa Kovacs and Kevin Rittberger

Entangled Lecture

Karen Barad:

Troubling Time/s. Undoing the Future.

Kevin Rittberger:

breaking through the fourth, fifth, sixth wall…? on diffractive theatre



Cook Center, IU Bloomington



Rebecca Schneider:

Gesture, Redaction, Diffraction, and Flight: Arts of the Interstice


Alison Calhoun and Ulf Otto:

Rethinking Theater and Technology: Early, Late and Never Have Been Moderns


Talk (via zoom)

Bini Adamczak:

Fractional Relationality


Tavia Nyong’o:

Relationality? No Thanks! On Black Performance and its Critical Refusal



Penda Diouf:

colonial stories: from France to Namibia. Read by Eboni Edwards


McKenzie Wark:

Dysphoric Planet


FAR Arts Center


Tzveta Kassabova:

Prometheus. Beginnings. Based on plays by Kevin Rittberger


Cook Center, IU Bloomington



Karin Harrasser:

Violence and the Care for Images: Doing History with Strangers


Art and Agency: On Mind, Matter, and Media

with Karen Barad, Karin Harrasser, Tavia Nyong’o, McKenzie Wark moderated by Rebekah Sheldon


Reading and Workshop:

Penda Diouf, Kevin Rittberger:

„Blackout White Noise.“ On ‘ethico-onto-epistem-ological’ writing


Luiza Prado:




Luiza Prado:

The Sermon of the Weeds

This conference is supported by the following Indiana University’s departments and programs: Germanic Studies, Presidential Arts and Humanities Program, The Office of the Vice President for International Affairs, the Cultural Studies Program, Art History, French and Italian, Theatre & Dance, Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media Studies

This conference is held in person. However, we are happy to share a zoom link with those who cannot travel to Bloomington but would still like to attend the conference. To receive a link and for any other information regarding the conference, please contact Teresa Kovacs (

“Aesthetic dimensions of (post-)digital interaction spaces” [30.8.] – panel at the conference Conspiracy, Fake and Certainties at ZHdK

Conspiracy, Fake, and Certainties. Questions about the contribution of the arts and their theories in times of social change.

Annual Conference of the PhD Program “Epistemologies of Aesthetic Practices,” Fri, Oct 28 – Sun, Oct 30, 2022

Panel 5: Aesthetic Dimensions of (Post-)Digital Spaces of Interaction

Media Studies Perspectives, Sun. Oct. 30, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. 

Social networks and smartphone applications manage to capture the attention of users through their interactive design and the constant availability of new content. The digital content presented to users depends heavily on the sometimes opaque algorithms of the digital platforms and also on the personal data stored by the applications. In addition to the algorithmic components, the aesthetic dimension also seems to play a decisive role in the area of communication and interaction in digital spaces. How is aesthetic sensibility controlled by digital content and what interdependencies open up in the power structure between data-driven algorithmicity and (post-)digital interaction?

Ulf Otto, Sabine Himmelsbach, Anna Lisa Martin-Niedecken

“Art and/as Intervention” [29.9.] – Lecture and Discussion at the Annual Conference of the Society for Theater Studies

Matters of Urgency

15th Congress of the Society for Theatre Studies

Art and/or Intervention

Forum, September 30, 2022 Seminar Center Room L113 Moderation: Doris Kolesch & Matthias Warstat

Questions about the role and relevance of theater and the performative arts are often formulated as claims for social effectiveness: Performances should – in the self-image of many theater creators and performers as well as in the judgment of numerous researchers – change social processes, position themselves in political conflict situations or intervene in them and address publics or (co-)produce them in the first place. The term intervention is often used to describe this relationship between (theatrical or performative) art and society. The panel wants to explore the potential and the range of the concept of intervention for theater/performance and theater studies. In doing so, the following current research projects and publications will be presented and enter into conversation with each other:

  • Silke Felber: “Intervening (with) Smells” (research project).
  • Doris Kolesch: “Akustische Störungen. Postkoloniale und queere Potentiale sonischer Interventionen” (Acoustic Disruptions. Postcolonial and queer potentials of sonic interventions) (research project in the Sfb “Intervenierende Künste”)
  • Ulf Otto / Johanna Zorn: “Ästhetiken der Intervention: Ein- und Übergriffe im Regime des Theaters” (Aesthetics of Intervention: Interventions and Encroachments in the Regime of Theater) (book publication Berlin: Theater der Zeit 2022)
  • Matthias Warstat: “Teilhabe und Dissoziation: Spannungen politischen Theaters im 20. Jahrhundert und in der Gegenwart” (Participation and Dissociation: Tensions of Political Theater in the 20th Century and in the Present) (research project in the Sfb “Intervenierende Künste”)

“Evidence of Repetition. Reenactments as a Scientific Method” [20.9.] – Lecture at the Research Institute for Music Theater in Thurnau.

Symposium “Wagnertheater! Historically informed?

20. bis 22. September 2022

Zeichnung zum Bühnenbild von Wagners Oper SiegfriedWhile historically informed performance practice is now widely accepted in early music and beyond, the idea of scientifically informed interpretation hardly plays a role in theater. The medium is too ephemeral by design, too time-specific, and too difficult to reconstruct. The audience of today would receive a (in practice impossible) historically accurate performance differently than the audience of the first performance. The parameters of the bodily co-presence of performers and spectators and the continuous feedback loop associated with it would thus be constituted fundamentally differently.
Nevertheless, the inclusion of historical speech, facial expressions and gestures in the concert performance of Rheingold by Concerto Köln under the musical direction of Kent Nagano in November 2021 was judged very positively by performers, visitors and the specialist press. In the next step, the Research Institute for Music Theater (fimt) of the University of Bayreuth, in cooperation with Concerto Köln and Kent Nagano, will ask itself within the framework of the DFG knowledge transfer project “Wagnergesang im 21. Jahrhundert – histo-risch informiert?” whether the questions of historically informed performance practice could also be applied to a fully staged production. This question will be explored at the conference Wagnerthea-ter! Historically Informed? conference will explore this question. In three sections (re-enactments as a method of theater and theater studies, historical performance, decla-mation and singing practice, historical equipment) experts from science and practice will discuss the potentials and limits of such an experiment.
Interested parties are welcome to attend the conference. Admission is free of charge.

The program and further information can be found in the

Translated with (free version)

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