DYNAMIC STRUCTURE and LIVING SYSTEMS: An unreliable pocket manual for the dramaturgical human

1. User guide

Theatre is a local language for investigating the universe. We’re enmeshed in our environments and in our inner life we search for meaning. Can this search, and the means of undertaking it, be brought closer to the actual mechanisms of life?

2. Contents

I’m interested in dramaturgical dialogue that goes beyond beyond linear determinism – the orderly predictable world of classical physics and Aristotelian dramaturgical models - to an understanding of non-linear dynamics and living systems. In fact, the majority of natural phenomena are non-linear, and energy is replacing matter as a fundamental feature of reality. We need to shift the register of our thinking to gain new perspectives on our own experience.

There are concepts and processes in physics and the science of complexity that help describe and define archetypal forms of movement. These in turn teach us about dynamic structure, which is the stuff of dramaturgy. Life is always in motion, always responding to rhythms. Art, like science, observes the generating forces of life.

3. Features

Live performance is a living, evolving system: an assemblage of objects united by regular interaction or interdependence. And living systems all work in essentially the same way, no matter how big or small they are. Dramaturgy is, literally, the work of the actions, and the actions of living systems are patterned.

And so, as a consequence, the world-embedded mind attends closely to pattern, metaphor and analogy. The majority of our neural activity is associated with pattern recognition, giving rise to such things as music, memory and metaphor. Out of the white noise of sensory experience we create meaning – moments take shape.

Finding patterns relieves us of the effort of seeking them. Patterns are seductive and mesmerising but they can anaesthetise us to the truth. In fact, all growth or evolution is only possible when something changes or is disturbed - when a pattern is created out of a seemingly random association of elements, or a pattern is destroyed, sensitising us to the conditions which disturbed it. So meaning is, in effect, found not in the pattern itself, but in its disturbance, and the creation of new patterns. Knowledge lies at thresholds and edges of experience, and this is the place where dramaturgy happens.

4. System requirements

Dramatic structure records change, and chaos and complexity (the study of non-linear complex adaptive systems) are the science of change. They argue that the same fundamental processes occur in all living and changing adaptive systems and at every level of complexity: behind all the variety there is structural necessity, and those structures are created out of movement. Living systems are fluent and adaptive; they incorporate feedback and change and are constantly moving, flowing. They slip free of rigid principles. They need dynamic thinking: musical thinking.

5. Hardware

The movement in physics known as chaos argues that simple, non-linear systems can behave in complicated ways. The first non-linear systems to be studied were weather systems. Weather is another word for context. In a weather system, as in a living performance system, a small change in input can result in a huge change in output. The system is extremely sensitive to its initial conditions, and extraordinary events can happen without extraordinary causes. Weather - and drama - upend logic, create new and unpredictable logics. What are the initial conditions of the system?