SAM Seminar: Visualising Lost Theatres: The Spaces of Performance

Illustration of the Queens Theatre, Adelaide 1942.

Jonathan Bollen (UNSW) and Joanne Tompkins (ARC, UQ)

Our research explores theatres that no longer exist to recover what we can about the social relations of production in performance from the past. We argue that venue architecture is the determining factor in the creation of performance genres: it controls the physical relationship between the audience and the performers; the lighting and acoustics that determine what is seen and heard; and the stage machinery that supports illusion. But once a theatre is no longer in use, so much of the cultural memory about it and its functions is lost; this project attempts to recover not only the theatre itself but the cultural memory of which it was a part. Our virtual reality reconstructions—built from documentation such as archaeology, photographic records, sketches, descriptions, and/or other resources that provide strong indications of structure, appearance, and spatial dynamics—create new knowledge about past events and social relationships. 

This presentation focuses on two aspects of our project. The first explores one case study, the Queen’s Theatre in Adelaide, Australia, built in 1840, just a few years into the establishment of the city. This grand Georgian theatre is today a heritage-listed shell building, with three original walls still in place, and almost none of its theatre apparatus. We contextualise this venue historically and demonstrate the benefits of its visualisation. The second describes an embodied method of research conducted 'inside' our theatre reconstructions. The VR equipment is set up in a studio to maximise the extent of the virtual venue available for physical exploration in actual space. The method explores the architectural construction of performer-spectator relations as the performer, moving within the stage-space, recalls the trace-forms of performance imagery. 

This seminar will be held in Webster 332 studio with the theatre models set up in the VR system for attendees to try out after the presentation. 


Dr Jonathan Bollen, School of the Arts and Media, UNSW Sydney, teaches theatre history, Australian drama and popular entertainment. His research includes the repertoire of Australian plays in production and the history of touring in the Asia-Pacific region. He is the co-author of Men at Play: Masculinities in Australian Theatre since the 1950s (2008). He also has experience in the digital humanities. 

Professor Joanne Tompkins, Executive Director, Humanities and Creative Arts, Australian Research Council, is author of Theatre’s Heterotopias: Space and the Analysis of Performance (2014), and Unsettling Space: Contestations in Contemporary Australian Theatre (2006). She was previously Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Queensland (UQ) and Head of the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at UQ.

Our collaborators on the project are Emeritus Professor Julie Holledge, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University, and Associate Professor Liyang Xia, Acting Director, Centre for Ibsen Studies, University of Oslo.

No need to book, all welcome!

This series provides a showcase and forum for local as well as international scholars, researchers, industry practitioners and creative artists – ranging from early-career to well-established – to present on their work. No need to book, all welcome!

Find out more and see the full program.
Enquiries contact: SAM Seminar Convenor, John Attridge

Robert Webster Building is located mid-way off the UNSW main walkway. Map Reference G14. 332 is located on the third floor. Please note the main entrance off the central walkway is on Level 1.

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