Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Killing the Audience: Forced Entertainment's First Night

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Killing the Audience: Forced Entertainment's First Night

Article excerpt

It [First Night] really is drivel, and I'm pandering to the drivel by spending any more time thinking about this review.1

Sheffield-based theatre company Forced Entertainment made their Australian debut in March 2004 with a season of their performance First Night at the Adelaide Festival.2 Despite international acclaim for the company's two decades of performance. First Sight received an extremely hostile critical reception in Adelaide, possibly because the work threatens its authence on several occasions with death. Forced Entertainment attempt in First Night to violently challenge the perceived indifference of the authence's role within conventional theatre practice, fracturing the psychic and physical sense of security within the audience's role as those who are allowed "to sit in the dark and to watch other people do it.3 The performance achieves this by making repeated returns to death, producing deathly jokes that become increasingly deadly serious as the performance unfolds. Through embracing and exceeding the accepted definitions of 'corpsing" and "dying on stage". First Night moves beyond death as a subject of theatrical representation, and toward death as a representational break whose power operates forcefully as much in the world as upon the stage that makes claim for status as a world of its own. This article uses dissident Surrealist Georges Balaille's notion of 'the formless" to examine the ways in which Forced Entertainment use theatrical and actual deaths in First Night to begin unravelling the psychic and material form of the theatre and its representational economies, and to explore how First Sight undoes spectatorship by proposing to kill the audience.

The role of the authence

As performer Jerry Killick notes early in First Sight, this performance assumes a very specific role for its audience:

Basically, um we're going to be up here ... and you're going to be down there ... and you're going to be down there ... and we're going to be in the light and you're going to be in the. the shadows ... er we're going to talk and er you're going to try and be as quiet as mice ... um ... er ... we're going to be standing up, uh, most of the time and ... you're going to be sitting down. Er. You're going to do what you do and we're going to do what we do.4

However, despite literally allowing the authence to remain safely in the dark to do what they do. the performance actively discourages indifference from authence members, constantly framing onstage actions as attacks upon the viewing public. The traditional role of the authence in the theatre is directly contested throughout First Night, a contestation played out primarily through direct verbal assaults upon the audience.5 These attacks take the form of increasingly aggressive suggestions as to how individual authence members might die in the future beyond the theatre event, and 1 analyse this pivotal sequence in more detail later. It is notable that the effect of this rhetorical violence upon the authence was surprisingly strong, with the fictional threat of future death seemingly being perceived by many authence members, in the Adelaide season of First Night at least, as an actual threat of physical assault. It seems that it does not take much to produce representational injuries to an audience, requiring simply the projection of specific imagined deaths from one side of the footlights to the other.

The attacks upon the audience throughout First Night are assaults upon the conventional role that theatre allocates to audiences, operating at the level of theatrical form. But despite being only attacks upon form, specifically the form that theatre requires of its audience, these attacks seemed to produce real affects upon actual authence members. One potential explanation for this is that these theatrical assaults carry with them a palpable fear of death. The deaths throughout First Night might only occur on a symbolic level, but these symbolic returns to death are always haunted by the possibility that they might become real. …

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