Digital Dramaturgy Lab_squared awarded Inlight grant for new project supporting student mental health

May 22, 2024 by Tara Maher

The Digital Dramaturgy Lab_squared led by CDTPS Professor Antje Budde has been awarded an Inlight Student Mental Health Research grant for its project tentatively titled, The Cave that Hummed a Song - Moving VR, Moving body and mind - Play, labor and learning to be well. The Inlight Student Mental Health Research grants support researchers who are actively working on projects that seek to improve student mental health and wellbeing across the University of Toronto campus.  

The Cave that Hummed a Song is an Indigenous storytelling performance by Cree performer/creator Trina Moyan dealing with personal, communal and political dimensions of colonial violence and Indigenous traditions of resilience, resistance, joy, healing and wellbeing,” says Budde.  

The lab will be working with longtime Indigenous collaborators Trina Moyan and Professor Jill Carter (co-applicant) and apply Indigenous embodied practices as a model to inform harm prevention and for developing student mental health awareness and wellbeing. The research will focus on applications of virtual reality (VR) in live performance in a storytelling project that will use Indigenous practices of healing, trauma-informed performance and techniques of resilience.  

Additional collaborators include Indigenous creator Shak Gobert (Cree and mixed blood from Frog Lake First Nation), who will be working on VR design aspects, and interdisciplinary artist and scholar Don Sinclair (co-applicant), a long-time collaborator with the Digital Dramaturgy Lab_squared from the Computational Arts program at York University, as well as his graduate student Jacob Loat, who specializes in VR and live performance. Budde will also collaborate with doctoral student Ilja Mirsky, who has a background in dance studies and cognitive science. He is a student at the Zurich University of the Arts and works as a digital dramaturg at the Residenztheater in Munich where Bertolt Brecht, whose works and praxis Budde is hugely inspired by, began his artistic journey. Students at the CDTPS will also be brought on board to support the project.  

“I usually collaborate with students, community members, artists, scientists and applied scientists who are multi-disciplinary, often multi-lingual, multi-able and cross-cultural in their praxis,” says Budde. “All of them bring their specific complexity of research methods and practices into the projects and we co-learn, co-translate, and co-design the research we are engaged in.” 

Budde has also partnered with the Interactive Media Lab (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department), who she has worked with before. This time she will be working with doctoral student Noah Zijie Qu (co-applicant) who is supervised by Mark Chignell. Qu’s background is in digital directing, design and visual communication. He will collaborate on VR design and programming and focus on human-computer interaction. She will also be collaborating with the Work and Play Lab (Psychology Department) led by cognitive and neuroscientist Michael Inzlicht. 

“I’m working with extremely open-minded collaborators who bring a high level of expertise but are able to integrate, synthesize and connect in networked and holistic-complex ways,” says Budde. 

In 2023, Budde was one of the inaugural recipients of the Inlight Student Mental Health Research Knowledge Synthesis grants, which supported the funding of her project PLAYStrong - Mental Health and Interactive Prototypes for Self-Learning. PLAYStrong investigated opportunities and potentials for creative, performance-based, interactive and participatory learning and supported student mental health and wellbeing while focusing on prevention, awareness, playful self-discovery and solidarity. 

The work of The Cave that Hummed a Song - Moving VR, Moving body and mind - Play, labor and learning to be well will build on the foundation laid by the research completed in PLAYStrong.  

“Mental health and wellbeing are very complex socio-economic issues tied to matters of social justice, equity, intersectional systemic oppressions, health care, education, environmental concerns etc.,” says Budde. “All topics are well represented in dramatic literatures and performance cultures.” 

Budde describes how in response to the past five years and the increasing mental health crisis, which has become more prevalent at the university, she has been shifting her creative priorities towards building community and participation.

“The performing arts I’m interested in intervene, invent, suggest, experiment with ways of making life livable,” says Budde. 

Learn more about the Digital Dramaturgy Lab_squared