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Roesner, David P. ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4371-1852 (8. August 2021): Making Sense of Performance. A New Approach to Performance Analysis. In: ACT - Zeitschrift für Musik und Performance : Oper_Musik_Theater, No. 10: pp. 1-28

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Attending the theatre – be it to see drama, music-theatre, dance or any other mode of performance – we enter into a complex and ‘messy’ process of making sense of what we see, hear, feel and think. This process is very personal, but not arbitrary, and it is influenced and guided by a lot of factors, many of which are neither intended nor controlled by the theatre makers themselves. In borrowing a well-established tool from organisational studies, the “sensemaking perspective” – most prominently introduced by Karl E. Weick – this paper seeks to provide a framework to guide our reflection on how we make sense of performances, what social, cognitive and perceptive factors and biases influence our understanding and how we indeed ‘enact’ a personal version of the performance, rather than being able to observe it as a reified event. The article does this by at first distinguishing “sensemaking” from “interpretation” and by introducing sensemaking as a process that is characterized by seven characteristics: according to Weick, 1) sensemaking is grounded in identity construction; 2) it is retrospective; 3) enactive of sensible environments; 4) social; 5) ongoing; 6) focused on and by extracted cues; and 7) driven by plausibility rather than accuracy. The article discusses how these characteristics can be applied to analyses of attending theatre performance, using the experimental, site-specific music-theatre production Maya (Mathis Nitschke, 2017) as a case study to substantiate and test the arguments. Sensemaking, therefore, is not offered as a new method of performance analysis per se but suggested as an overall way of looking at, thinking about, and accounting for how we attend the theatre. It is a frame of mind which provides a kind of overarching structure that addresses the theatre performance in its wider context and negotiates the individual and collective agency of the audience.

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