Creating the Self in the Contemporary American Theatre

By Robert J. Andreach | Go to book overview

Conclusion: Engaging the Spectator in the Creating

Within weeks of seeing Finley's performance of We Keep Our Victims Ready, with a woman friend I again became a member of a Living Theatre ritual. I had participated decades earlier, but it was not until the fall of 1990 that I rejoined the company founded in 1947 by Julian Beck and Judith Malina. In the 1960s Paradise Now brought notoriety and leadership in interactive theatre at home and abroad. In the 1980s the company, under the direction of Malina and Hanon Reznikov, returned from Europe to perform collective creations such as The Body of God.

Since The Body of God is a ritual, I could apply to it Beck's imperatives for engaging the audience. In his collection of thoughts about the Living Theatre's mission, the co-founder notes that for spectators one of theatre's attractions is the ability of actors to become the characters they play. He calls their accomplishment "heroic" because they "get out of the labyrinth of lower consciousness" to enter another consciousness. In effect he then asks, If performers can become members of another class by acting, why cannot spectators? Well, of course they can--by acting! There follow the Seven Imperatives of Contemporary Theatre1 for awakening the histrionic sensibility of the spectators so that they can participate in the creation of the theatre ritual and therefore of the self and the society.

I could apply the imperatives, but I do not want to. Only weeks earlier I had watched a ritual. Now I was about to enter one, and I want to share my experience rather than conduct an analysis. The experience recapitulates the book's argument.

As the theatregoers entered the rectangular room on the ground floor of a run-down building in New York's Lower East Side, they were asked to take a

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