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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter May 12, 2016

Challenging the Auditorium: Spectatorship(s) in ‘Off-site’ Performances

Anne Étienne


This article investigates two theatre works in order to reflect upon the evolving meaning of spectatorship when taken out of the traditional venues, as well as upon the elusive experience of attending site-specific work. In Corcadorca’s production of Enda Walsh’s How These Desperate Men Talk at the Kinsale Arts Festival (2014) and ANU’s Vardo (2014) at the Dublin Theatre Festival, the notion of a passive spectator is under attack. The fact that both companies are devoted to developing innovative ‘off-site’ performances (i.e. outside theatre venues) and creating new exchanges with audiences offers a common ground for a practice which proves most heterogeneous and destabilising for spectators and researchers alike. The shows play with the wide range of possibilities to be accessed via a tentatively termed ‘site-specificity’ to focus on the engagement with a community or a one-on-one audience and to modify narrative expectations. In order to question what tends to be involved in this relationship between work, site and spectator(s), the contexts and nature of the constructed journeys are explored in the first place. It is suggested that the different kinds of exchange with the site (from neutral off-site to site-exclusive performances) impact on the form of reception and therefore the role, status and limits of the spectators. Finally, approaching the two plays via the spectator allows for a reading of the theatre experience that opens up on aesthetic and political considerations.

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Anne Étienne lectures in Modern Drama in the School of English, University College Cork. Her teaching focuses on her three fields of research: theatre censorship in 20th-century England, British theatre from the 1960s onwards, and contemporary Irish theatre. Her research in 20th-century British drama and theatre hinges on an interdisciplinary approach which involves a reflection on the political and cultural contexts. She has published extensively on the issue of theatre censorship in England. Her second field of research is devoted to the work of Arnold Wesker and she is currently pursuing new projects on his literary and cultural heritage. She has been interested in contemporary Irish theatre since her appointment at UCC and is working on an edited volume on contemporary Irish theatre.

Published Online: 2016-5-12
Published in Print: 2016-5-1

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