Perception is like the sense of touch

“In vision, as in touch, we gain perceptual content by active inquiry and exploration”
Alva Noë, Action in Perception (2004) 

In Earthbound, a significant amount of humor stems from the characters’ attitude to and handling of an invisible object: the FMCO button (For Martian Captain Only), which Martian Tarō (Iana Weingard) renames the BBB (Big Blue Button). Martian Captain (Audrey Castaneda Walker) forbids their flight crew to touch it because the button creates a treacherous space-time distortion. Located in the engine room downstage center, this button occupies an in-between position, an invisible virtual bridge between the Martians and the audience. While our work with digital performance required that we rethink many spatial relationships between and among the characters and their environment, the invisible BBB and its stylized handling opened up richer creative possibilities that brought us closer to traditional Kyōgen. 

In one of the training sessions, Sennojō Sensei explained that working with an object that doesn’t exist, miming an interaction with it on stage, allows a kyōgen actor to explore exciting possibilities of creating comic situations through imagination and play. Because the object doesn’t exist in a fixed tangible state, an actor can create and control its “reality” though (virtual) touch, visual focus, and physical concentration: the object could become smaller, heavier, or longer; it could change its texture or temperature; or all of a sudden it could just… vanish. Instrumental here is the actor’s enactive approach – the flow of, or shifts in, focus and touch, seasoned with a pinch of comic exaggeration. “The bizarre is welcome in comedy,” Sensei assured us.

Martian Tarō and Martian Jirō (Clayton Searcy) arrive in the spaceship’s engine room with a very specific and urgent task: they must initiate the engine’s start-up sequence because the rather short departure window for their mission to Earth is upon them. Yet, they are distracted by the allure of the forbidden. We all know the feeling, so we don’t need to see the BBB to understand its pull and laugh at Martian Jirō’s utter inability to resist it. Glued to the BBB, while he pretends to search for the engine button, Martian Jirō’s focused look triggers our imagination, making the button real for us. Though it remains out of sight, we do see Martian Jirō’s mischievous and stylized interaction with the BBB: as we know where to locate it, we are able to enter a spatial relationship with it. We are drawn into the mischief.

– Maggie Ivanova, Earthbound & MushZooms 2.0

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