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Can Theatre Performance Counter Disinformation? New Grant to Support Interdisciplinary Research

A new grant awarded to Emerson College will fund exploring how theatre performance can tackle online disinformation, and foster data fluencies.

Ioana Jucan
Ioana Jucan

The Data Fluencies Theatre Project will be led by Ioana Jucan, assistant professor for Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary studies and the Business of Creative Enterprises program.

The project is a sub-grant for $161,134 for three years, and is part of a $6.22 (CAD) million grant provided to Simon Fraser University’s Digital Democracies Institute from the Mellon Foundation. The overall grant led by Dr. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media, will fund a multi-institutional three-year Data Fluencies Project that will explore, analyze, and take action against mis- and disinformation that threaten democracy, and undermine the ability to form complete and accurate narratives about our shared humanity.

As the leader of the Data Fluencies Theatre Project, Jucan will assemble and work with a team of artists to create a multimedia performance to convey the research of the broader Data Fluencies team.

“The project seeks to make visible, deconstruct, and counter the ‘deep memetic frames’ and emotion-driven processes of identification that activate racist, classist, and gendered stereotypes on which contemporary mis- and disinformation rely,” said Jucan.

Jucan said theatre and performance studies can examine socio-cultural and identity information and thus provide the space to imagine and enact what is not (yet) computationally possible.

The performance will be presented to Boston and Vancouver high school and college students, members of diverse communities, and online. Jucan will also seek collaborations with performance venues in those two cities and organizations committed to community engagement and equity.

“We want the project to result in a more robust understanding of how and why dis- and misinformation spreads and how algorithms encode and perpetuate discrimination as well as the development of methods and tools to counter these dynamics and to imagine — and implement — just and sustainable alternatives,” said Jucan.

An image from Ioana Jucan’s Left and Right, or Being Who/Where You Are in 2021.

This project builds on Jucan’s ongoing research at the intersection of theatre and performance studies, media studies, and philosophy. Jucan’s prior work on these topics includes a series of participatory workshops on “Disinformation and Performance” held in Canada, the U.S., and Europe (2019-2021) and Left and Right, or Being Who/where You Are in 2021 — a devised, live online theatre performance that featured both human and machinic actors that Jucan co-created and directed.

“This research has also informed my teaching at Emerson, particularly two upper-level courses that I developed — In the News: The Real, the Fake, and the Spectacle and Digital Presence and Network Cultures,” said Jucan. “As part of the Data Fluencies grant, I will work with the team members on developing a Critical and Creative Data Studies course that will bring together methodologies, tools, and theory developed as part of the grant. I look forward to teaching this course at Emerson.”

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