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

Jenn Stephenson

Abstract


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?”


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References


Alston, Adam. 2013. “Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, Agency and Responsibility in Immersive Theatre.” Performance Research 18 (2): 128–38.

Arnstein, Sherry R. 1969. “A Ladder of Citizen Participation.” Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35 (4): 216-24.

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Stephenson, Jenn. 2018. “Audience as Citizen? (Part 1).” Upsurges of the Real: A Performance Research Blog, realtheatre.blog, (20 September).

The Assembly: Episode 1. Produced by Porte Parole. Playwrights: Alex Ivanovici, Annabel Soutar and Brett Watson. Director: Chris Abraham. Set designer: Simon Guilbault. Lighting designer: Luc Prairie. Sound designer: Antoine Bédard. Performers: Jimmy Blais, Sean Colby, Alex Ivanovici, Tanja Jacobs, Ngozi Paul, and Brett Watson. Théâtre ESPACE GO. .November 2018.

Weaver, Lois. “Long Table.” Split Britches, split-britches.com

Zaiontz, Keren. 2014. “Narcissistic Spectatorship in Immersive and One-on-One Performance.” Theatre Journal 66 (3): 405–25.


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