Webster’s Malfi on Waley’s Honbutai: Arts-Based Research for a Virtual Stage


  • Kyle Stooshnov The College of the Rockies




virtual reality, Jacobean plays, Japanese traditional theatre, performative inquiry


This article speculates on the use of digital media for performative inquiry, as the subtitle suggests, a virtual stage for education and research. During the global pandemic a situation arose recalling other moments in history when a crisis prevented social gathering in schools and theatrical venues alike. Whereas educators adapted quickly to the new normal with video conferencing, artists struggled to find ways to connect with their audiences. Using a combination of fiction-based research and performative inquiry, this article imagines a technology that recreates an immersive sense of presence of a live stage production through a process called retroprojection. The aim of this research is to provide an example of creative use of current virtual reality based on its remote origin in early twentieth century modernist stagecraft.

In a similar vein to the expanded history of virtual reality, arts-based research developed from a qualitative method for inquiring into educational matters toward a more literary performance of self and others. The two main protagonists of this article are Nathan and John, connected through a dramatic dialogue as they both explore the creation of a virtual play. This historical artifact combines the texts of Webster’s Jacobean tragedy The Duchess of Malfi with the aesthetics from a theorized adaptation as a traditional Japanese Noh play, suggested by the English poet Arthur Waley in 1919. Taking this concept a step further ahead in the twenty-first century, the possibility of machine learning with a virtual performance provides another layer of meaning making for creative communication.