Performing Opposition: Modern Theater and the Scandalized Audience

Performing Opposition: Modern Theater and the Scandalized Audience

Performing Opposition: Modern Theater and the Scandalized Audience

Performing Opposition: Modern Theater and the Scandalized Audience

Excerpt

In a review of the tumultuous premiere of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Leipzig Opera House in 1930, critic Alfred Polgar mused about such incidents with both humor and acuity:

Theater scandals are tremendously stimulating. It’s good to see people ready to
come to blows over the theoretical questions which art brings up—or throws
down—and getting so worked up that they’re beside themselves. There’s nothing
to be won in such battles in the theater (battles which … remind one of religious
wars) other than the upper hand, and yet they’re fought with venomous effort, as
if prizes were up for grabs.…

And the festive character that goes along with every gathering of paying thea
tergoers all at once reveals surprisingly malicious traits. Perfectly healthy people
are overcome by a shouting-fever, and it’s contagious; they turn red in the face
and whistling comes out of them; suddenly, innocuous souls conceive and admit
to an opinion, instead of calmly waiting for one to be delivered to them in the
morning paper.

The following study grows out of my own interest in the same striking features of theater scandals that fascinated Polgar. On such occasions, those spectators who take exception to the work do not wait until after its presentation to complain about it—they perform their opposition then and there. In this book I examine the counter-performances of affronted spectators against several European plays of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

These counter-performances by opponents almost always induce other . . .

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