Seminar on "Orphan Black: Textuality, Sexuality, Science" (ACLA 2016; Cambridge, MA)
Are human bodies “vital organisms” or “biological machines”? This, per Joseph Roach, is the essential question of acting theory from Diderot to Stanislavsky. But in an age of cybernetic living, the question hardly makes sense. Bodies and machines are entangled, and thus our notions of “the human” must change. Popular acting has always been the place where these changes are most visible. When actors decide to take a new machine for a scene partner, this new technology provokes new technique from the actor, and new technês of the human are made palpable.
We see this happening in Orphan Black, whose lead actress Tatiana Maslany has been hailed for her feats of characterization. (Ten clones and counting.) It’s not just a matter of technique. She has learned to play well with a cutting-edge technology: the TechnoDolly, which repeats the same camera movement and focus, allowing editors to later stitch multiple takes into a dynamic master, many-Maslanied. The TechnoDolly is Maslany’s most frequent and vital scene partner. In response, she must regiment her own body, "hitting her marks" with near-mechanical precision. Another actress, meanwhile, is the ghost in the machine—doing the scene-work with Maslany, but then stepping aside while Maslany plays each part into thin air.
The technologized body; ghosts of others in our innermost selves; the elaborate programs and codes behind “naturalness”—these are not only the themes of Orphan Black, they are also its essential condition as performance.