Audience Participation: Essays on Inclusion in Performance

Audience Participation: Essays on Inclusion in Performance

Audience Participation: Essays on Inclusion in Performance

Audience Participation: Essays on Inclusion in Performance

Synopsis

Scholarly work on the impact of an active audience on theatrical and dance performance is a relatively new phenomenon, one that until now has manifested itself largely in the form of scattered dialogue on the subject. Audience Participation: Essays on Inclusion in Performance serves as a corrective to this. While the passive audience has long been acknowledged in works on response theory and audience studies for its contribution to the performance event, performance styles that use the audience as an active contributing creative force have been appended to the studies as merely variations on a theme. This anthology brings together essays on direct audience participation in the work of fourteen widely varied theatrical and dance artists, covering performance genres of the past and present, popular entertainment and high art. Its comprehensiveness and uniqueness make it an important contribution to the literature on theater and its many forms and facets.

Excerpt

We know that audiences affect performances through their reactions—laughter, sighs, restlessness—and in most traditional Western theatre, those responses are generally polite and unobtrusive. Audiences also have influence as new professional productions are tinkered with to some extent following “preview” performances. And although theatre is recognized as being incomplete until an audience witnesses it and creates it for themselves intellectually, spectators are generally relegated to “receiver” status, having little impact on the process of performance except in standard, structured response. The passive audience, of course, is a relatively new condition of theatrical experience, but nevertheless has become so prevalent that it is the status quo for most theatre in the West. The passive audience really only came into being in the nineteenth century, as theatre began its division into artistic and entertainment forms. Practitioners and theorists such as Wagner, with his “mystic chasm,” and he and Henry Irving with their darkened auditoriums, took some of the many small steps in the nineteenth century that psychically separated the audience from the performance and discouraged spectatorial acts of ownership or displeasure, or even vociferous approval. This expectation of the silent audience has become so accepted that in a 1991 New York Times article on the bad manners of theatre patrons, the columnist Alex Witchel did not even mention the history behind his demand for politeness or acknowledge that truly good theatre often inspires in its spectators just the opposite of the motionless silence he desired. This polite, awed reception has come to be the norm.

But historically and in a growing variety of theatrical forms today, it has been a very different matter. For the theatre and dance performances investigated . . .

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