Assembling the Audience-Citizen (Or, Should Each Person Be Responsible for Their Own Paté?)



Citizen participation is often cited as a central technique for improving governmental decision-making processes. Participation is good for the polis. When more people are involved in making decisions that affect their community, better decisions will be made. Audience participation is also often cited as a central technique for augmenting the experience of theatre through increased engagement. Participation is good for art. When more people are involved in actively influencing the performance, the work will be more impactful. If the collective gathering of an interactive theatre event mirrors a society in miniature, the audience could be a citizen. But is this a legitimate equation to make?

In her book on participatory art, Artificial Hells, Claire Bishop argues persuasively that the audience is not a citizen because the assemblage of people engaged in a performance is not a democracy. Subsequently, Bishop shifts the terrain to other characteristics that mark politically productive contexts of participation distinct from the citizen model, notably “mutual tension, recognition, and dependency [and collective negotiation]” (Bishop 279). In this paper, I take these four characteristics and apply them to the participatory audience in the “long table” scene in The Assembly: Episode 1, the most recent work by Montreal’s Porte Parole. I read one unique iteration of that performance as a theoretical document giving insight into the questions: “How is a participatory audience a citizen?” and “If the audience is a citizen, how ought we to we participate?”

Author Biography

Jenn Stephenson, Queen's University

Jenn Stephenson is a professor in the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University. Her recent book is Insecurity: Perils and Products of Theatres of the Real (University of Toronto Press, 2019). Performing Autobiography: Contemporary Canadian Drama received CATR’s Ann Saddlemyer Award in 2013. Recent articles have appeared in Theatre Journal and Theatre Research in Canada. Jenn is Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Theatre Review. You can follow the progress of her research on her blog: