Spectatorship, Politics and the Rules of Participation
Re-discovering the Audience in Contemporary Lithuanian Theatre
Contemporary theatre performances offer many examples of audience engagement - its forms range from physical interventions into public space to mental emancipation of the audience’s imagination. These practices put into question the effectiveness of the existing tools of audience research because, in some instances, theatre serves as a manipulation machine, “tricking” the public to perform specific social actions, while in other cases, it becomes a tool for the deconstruction of manipulation mechanisms at the same time serving as a platform for engaging entertainment. Audience research paradigms, based on dichotomies such as passive/active, inclusion/exclusion or incorporation/resistance are no longer able to address the complex concepts of spectatorship as performance, co-creation, or audience participation. Therefore, new practices of audience participation, conspicuously emerging in contemporary Lithuanian theatre, can only be adequately addressed by combining methodologies from different disciplines and critically evaluating historical and theoretical implications of these practices. In my article, I will focus on the historical implications of the term “audience participation” as a form of public engagement and issues of its application as experienced by theatre artists and audiences in Lithuania. The article will also examine the theoretical implications of the notion of participatory turn and its effect on theatre productions at the same time challenging the conceptual equations of “active spectatorship” in the aesthetic sphere to the emergence of “active participant” in the public sphere.
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