Introduction: “What Have You Learned Today?”


Sidney Homan


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The idea for this special issue of Comparative Drama, “The Audience as Player: Interactive Theater over the Years,” emerged from an ongoing conversation with my son Daniel. A novelist, he also writes dialogue and devises plots for video games and is himself an avid player—I, a mere audience. Daniel was telling me about ways in which video games have become increasingly interactive, how the medium has progressed far beyond the Pac Man stage. In Heavy Rain, for example, the player at the controls is not just a “shooter” represented by a stock character making his way through a maze to a goal. Instead, the gamer joins the game designer, charting the plot, devising dialogue, shaping onscreen characters, even injecting his or her own personality into the central character. I added my own experience as a director, actor, and—most certainly—audience member in interactive theater over the years, starting from street protest theater in the 1960s and extending through work with improv companies, where our audience (including inmates during a tour of Florida prisons) was invited to come onstage as fellow actors, to more recent efforts at involving the audience in productions (Brecht to Shakespeare). Some successes, and more than my share of failures, I must confess. These exchanges led, inevitably, to our raising the idea of parallels (as well as differences) between interactive theater and video games, both times when the spectator is no longer a passive receptor but a participant, a collaborator, if you will, with the playwright or game designer, where distinctions break down between stage and house, screen and living room. When I was asked to be the guest editor of this special issue of Comparative Drama, I suggested in the call for papers that this enhanced role for the audience has, surely, philosophical and aesthetic implications, not to mention practical consequence during an actual production.

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