“Oh My God, Audience Participation!”: Some Twenty-First-Century Reflections


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

"Oh My God, Audience Participation!"1: Some Twenty-First-Century Reflections

After a full half-century of intense experimentation with the role of the audience in contemporary theater and performance and the new channels opened for audience interactivity by the new media technologies, it is almost mandatory to reassess the achievements of all these practices. Has something essential changed in the ways we perceive the workings of theater, or is it all a vicious circle of false pretenses on both sides of the production and reception of the spectacle? Theorists and practitioners have provided a plethora of contrasting views and experiences ranging from materiality and rationality to emotion and metaphysics, from positivism and enthusiasm to terror and despair, from power and liberation to entrapment and control. On the one hand, Susan Bennett voices a paean to the contemporary “democratizing of the arts” through the fall of distinct boundaries.2 On the other hand, Anne Ubersfeld soberly asserts the perennial, creative role of the spectator as the “sujet d’un faire,” “l’artisan d’une pratique.”3


1 Théâtre de Complicité, Mnemonic, rev. ed. (London: Methuen, 2001), 6.

2 Susan Bennett, Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception (London: Routledge, 1990), 10.

3 “Subject of an act,” “the artisan of a practice”; Anne Ubersfeld, L’école du spectateur (Paris: Editions sociales, 1981), 303. All translations from L’école du spectateur are mine.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.