Emancipating the Spectator? Livecasting, Liveness, and the Feeling I

Heidi Liedke


Recently, the Metropolitan Opera, the National Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company have produced livecasts of their shows that are shown in cinemas worldwide. What impact do livecasting technologies have on the experience of their spectators? Are they manifestations of the Rancierian epoch or do they bring about a new kind of emotional turn? And how do they influence the perceived liveness of the performances?

This article investigates these questions by drawing on concepts from adaptation studies, performance philosophy and audience studies. I argue that, on the one hand, livecasting opens up new possibilities of audience participation and fosters a multimodal engagement with the “translated” sources. Livecasts allow their audiences (the feeling of) a key role in determining their shape, and theatres reach out to audiences to engage with their shows on social media. On the other hand, this new paradigm of spectatorship, with its emphasis on “first-person experiences,” may come at the expense of more traditional constructions of “liveness” which prioritize community and identification. Livecasts foster the manifestation of the “feeling I,” one’s personal position regarding the cultural product and particularly one’s emotional rather than critical response.

This article points to the limits of a Bakhtinian reading when thinking about livecasts. They can enhance the experience of an adaptation. They can remind us that texts are not dead things. But one must ask whether the potential of this multimodal complexity is not complemented with and pushed off the stage by experiential simplicity and the manifestation of the “feeling I.”

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