top of page

The Emerging Emancipation Symposium

May 9th 2019, 9-5pm

The Emerging Emancipation Symposium: What/How we know more about audiences and spectators

With support from The Canadian Association of Theatre Research’s Research Grant, The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science, Milestones/Pathways Initiative, The University of Toronto Scarborough Working Groups and The Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies  

Recent progress has been made in deconstructing the myth of the powerless and passive spectator, but much is left to discover about their actual thinking, feeling and meaning- making in response to the performing arts. As part of their ongoing mandate to help bridge these knowledge gaps, The Centre for Spectatorship and Audience Research (CSAR) invited eighteen leading researchers from the UK, US, and Canada to share their emerging understandings of audience “translations”, improvements in methodological approaches, and effective modes of communicating discoveries to a wider circle of academics and practitioners.

This symposium was funded with the support of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research, the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto, The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science Milestones/Pathways Initiative, and The University of Toronto Scarborough Working Groups Competition.We are also pleased to have been able to have this symposium here on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.

Breakdown of the Day

Emerging Epistemologies

What is 'Good' Audience Research with Kristey Sedgeman

Writing about the death of research into the reception of ‘alternative news’, Jennifer Rauch speculates that media scholars often ‘hesitate to shift their gaze and their resources’ from texts/producers to audiences because ‘[p]apers are easier to organize than people, who have busy schedules and need motivation to participate’ (2007: 995). In other words: audience research is hard. Studies that set out to capture evidence of spectator response require a considerable amount of work to organise, design, and undertake; they can be especially costly; and they necessitate particular care when negotiating the intricate ethical and practical ramifications of working with ‘human subjects’. Whether the subject is horror films or romance novels, comic books or reality television: conducting research into audiences is always a difficult, complicated, and time consuming pursuit. When attention is turned to theatre and the live arts, audience researchers frequently find extra layers of complexity. This presentation will consider how audience research risks provoking a form of anxiety particular to the live performance experience. Whether through archived letters or social media posts, oral history interviews or post-show surveys: evidencing experience via discursive methodologies requires us to think critically about the interpretative process of research itself. How much is our data really able to tell us about the ontology of audience response – and where do its limitations lie? Introducing the brand new Routledge Theatre & Performance Series in Audience Research, this presentation argues that while there is value in capturing empirical information about the varying ways diverse spectators find meaning in performance, we also need to be critical about the kinds of knowledge that our multifarious research approaches are able to produce.

Kirsty Sedgman is a Lecturer in Theatre at the University of Bristol. She specializes in studying theatre audiences, exploring topics including experience, community, fandom, and response. Her work has been published by a variety of journals and edited books, as well as in two monographs: Locating the Audience: How People Found Value in National Theatre Wales (2016, Intellect) and The Reasonable Audience: Theatre Etiquette, Behaviour Policing, and the Live Performance Experience (2018, Palgrave). Kirsty is currently engaged in a three-year British Academy postdoctoral research fellowship investigating regional theatre audience engagement through time.

Evaluating Thinking and Audience Impacts in Research-Based Theatre with Jennica Nichols

Research-based theatre (RBT) is a broad term for the transformation of research into scripted dramatizationthrough performance. RBT is gaining popularity in health due to its ability to show the human experience ofillness, accessibly translate research findings, and promote dialogue. RBT therefore offers novel knowledgetranslation opportunities. As a fusion between art and research, it also presents unique challenges. To date, evaluators have largely been absent from RBT projects resulting in limited evaluative thinking to support thiswork. To start addressing this gap, this presentation shares how evaluative thinking improved our work tomeasure audience impacts in a RBT project about returning Canadian veterans and mental health. Morespecifically, I will talk about (i) how evaluative thinking around audience impacted production andperformance along with (ii) ways we integrated measurement into the overall theatre experience. Examplesand lessons learned will be shared to help others seeking to measure audience impacts in their future work.

Jennica Nichols is a Ph.D. candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia, with interests in patient engagement, knowledge translation, evaluation, and research-based theatre. She has eight years’ experience conducting mixed methods research and program evaluations in Toronto, Vancouver, USA, Scotland, and Kenya. Jennica has previously combined her interests in theatre and measurement to study audience impacts in five research-based theatre productions. Jennica holds a Master in Public Health (Epidemiology, Global Health) from the University of Toronto and has been a Credentialed Evaluator since 2015.

Hashtags and Post-Show Chats: Methods Towards Live and Digital Theatre Audience Ethnographies with Kelsey Jacobson

While media studies, as a discipline, has been invested in audience ethnography (Moores 1993; Alastuutari 1999) and ‘New Audience Research’ (Corner 1991) for decades, the question of an audience ethnographic method in theatre and performance remains understudied. More specifically, usual methods of audience ethnography involving audience interviews in-person must be re-thought in order to engage with the newly digital audience of livestreamed, rebroadcast, and media-based theatre. As part of a larger project entitled “Crowdsourcing Reality: Audiences for/by/as Design,” concerned with how audiences explicitly and implicitly shape the experience of the event for themselves and fellow spectators, this particular essay will interrogate ethnographic methodologies appropriate to investigating the emic perspective of the spectator. I will focus specifically on the concept of the ‘extended experience,’ here explored through the use of hashtag reviews on Twitter and in the design of qualitative interviews post-show at live productions. How might the experience of ‘attending performance’ both online and in-person be extended so as to incorporate qualitative research methods? What does this particular method make visible, and what does it overlook? This investigation will serve to inform larger discussions of methodology, and prompt consideration of both the challenges and advantages of attempts at digital and live theatre audience ethnography.

Kelsey Jacobson is an incoming Assistant Professor in the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. She is also currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies where she defended her thesis “Feeling Real: Affective Dimensions of Reality in Contemporary Canadian Theatre” in 2018. She is one of the founders and directors of the Centre for Spectatorship and Audience Research, and has published work in Research in Drama Education, Theatre Research in Canada, Education and Theatre Journal of the Hellenic Theatre, Performance Matters, and Canadian Theatre Review. She is currently co-editing an edited collection entitled A Global Youth Citizenry: Theorizing Community-Engaged Research Methodology under contract with Springer. Her research interests include audiences and spectatorship, theatre of the real, qualitative methodology, applied theatre, and affect.

Welcome to our house: Developing collaborative, artist-centric methods for studying reception with Dani Snyder-Young

Reception scholars and working artists differ in our approaches to studying the poetic translations of spectators. Through eighteen months 2017-18, I collaborated with Halcyon Theatre, a twelve-year-old small professional ensemble theatre in Chicago, to develop sustainable artist-centric methods to evaluate the impact of their artistic work on their audiences. Halcyon’s front-of-house culture is distinct, and designed to highlight the things people who do not know each other have in common, quietly transforming strangers into neighbors by amplifying the potential of the theatrical event to create social connections. Jenn Adams, the Director of Community Engagement and Special Events and the company’s co-founder, house manages the productions as if hosting a party at her own home. She welcomes every patron to the 40-seat space, remembers audience members she has met before, and finds points of connection with everyone who walks in the door. She introduces audience members to each other, seeding conversations by pointing to things people might have in common. After the performance, actors mingle freely with audience members, greeting their guests and talking informally with audience members they may not have already known. Halcyon rarely hosts formal post-performance discussions, instead creating an informal atmosphere in which people can socialize and discuss what they have seen. Capitalizing on this distinct front-of-house culture, this study utilized front-of-house staff and actors as researchers, attempting to find sustainable ways to learn about and draw lessons from the meanings audience members were making from the productions. This essay examines the frictions and victories emerging from this collaborative research project that applied the study of spectatorship to the material and artistic needs of working artists.

Dani Snyder-Young is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Northeastern University. She is a scholar/artistwhose work focuses on theatre and social change, applied theatre, and contemporary US activistperformance. Dani is the author of THEATRE OF GOOD INTENTIONS: CHALLENGES ANDHOPES FOR THEATRE AND SOCIAL CHANGE (2013, Palgrave Macmillan), which examines the limitsof theatre in making social change. She has published in Research in Drama Education: The Journal of AppliedTheatre Research, Theatre Survey, Theatre Research International, Qualitative Inquiry, Youth Theatre Journal, Texas TheatreJournal, and the International Journal of Learning. Her current project examines the impacts of anti-racist theatricalevents on white spectators.

Situating Participations

One Foot Forward: A style-centric approach to exploring audience reception with Scott Mealey

“[...]I started with one foot forward I guess or like on the path that I chose to watch the show in [...].” Spectator Interview with “Rachel”

The spectatorial encounter with the style of a performance, by which I mean the unique way in which artists combine the realities of life with the realities of the theatre, is a dominant feature of the receptive experience (Gourdan; Sauter). It is perhaps even, as John Styan has suggested, “the sine qua non of successful communication in the theatre, and therefore of the drama's affective meaning” (68). And, though some have worried how style may be structuring our “mode of imagination, thought and feeling in theatre” (Lehmann 161), little empirical investment has been made to discover how spectators (like “Rachel” above) are actually using style-markers to help them “put one foot forward.”

As part of my larger dissertation, I have adopted a mixed-methods approach to help discover some of the more “attractive” style-based modes of attention adopted by spectators. Given the survey responses and interviews from audience members who attended one of four Toronto independent productions (2016-2017), I will be discussing four modes that emerged, including drama-centric, theoretical-centric, mirror-centric, and craft- centric approaches. Using analysis that draws on qualitative interview texts and quantitative multi-dimensional mapping, I will discuss how each of the four dispositions seem to encourage spectators to engage on-stage “reality” in unique ways, particularly as they foster distinct combinations of affective-cognitive processing.

Scott Mealey is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto where his thesis interrogates the role of intent, style, and familiarity in effecting attitudinal change in theatre spectators. Scott’s publications and presentations explore research and conversations at the intersection of performance, persuasion, and social affect, typically through mixed- methods approaches. He is a co-founder/co-director of the award-winning Centre for Spectatorship and Audience Research, which develops, connects, and features audience research in North America (including guest editing an upcoming special issue of Performance Matters on the topic of 21st-century Shifts in Spectatorship and Audience Research). Beyond his research practice, he has worked as a professional theatre artist and producer (mostly in Atlantic Canada) and an educator (mostly in undergraduate theatre and communication departments, where he has focused on both theory and practice).

A Hush Fell Over the Crowd: Audience Enactments, Performance, and Affect with Kelsey Blair

Influenced by the work of Shannon Jackson, Jen Harvie, and Claire Bishop, the behaviours of audience members in performance genres such as site-specific and socially engaged theatre have increasingly been theorized through the lens of participation. In this short paper, I am interested in extending this line of thinking to examine audiences in terms of performance, practice, and affect. In What a Body Can Do, Ben Spatz suggests that practice refers to “chunks of human life bounded in time and space” (45) while “technique refers to “transmissible knowledge that links such chunks together across time and space” (45). While “traditional” audience behaviours may appear relatively static when compared to the dynamic movements that may be prompted by participatory performance genres, actions such as clapping and cheering are “concrete examples of actions, moments of doing, historical instances of materialized activity” (Spatz 41); they are, in other words, practice. Building from Spatz’ conceptualizations, I contend that the combination of conventions, traditions, laws, and rules that pattern audience practices are critical for analyzing what gets performed by the enactment of audience practices. To demonstrate, I briefly examine what I call “sporting injury mini dramas,” meaning the sequence of action that follows a series injury in sport performances, in relation to National Football League injuries and demonstrate how the patterning of audience behaviours during such dramas function to contain the potentially negative affects prompted by the injury itself, thereby supporting the mechanisms of the NFL’s affective scene.

Kelsey Blair has a PhD in English with an emphasis in Performance Studies from Simon Fraser University, is a doctoral fellow at SFU's Performance Studies Institute, and a Sessional Instructor at the University of British Columbia. Her areas of interest include the intersection between performance studies and sport, spectacle performance, applied and community engaged theatre, and theatre and affect. Her work has been published in Language and Literacy, Research in Drama Education, The International Journal of Sport History, the Journal of Musical Theatre Studies, and Canadian Theatre Review. She is also the co-editorof Basically Queer: An Intergenerational Guide to LGBTQA2S+ Lives published by Peter Lang, the author of four young adult sport fiction novels, a community engaged artist, and a member of several sport and theatre boards.

Reflection, phenomenology and demand characteristics: articulating and capturing intangible experience through audience research with Astrid Breel

Participatory, immersive and multimedia performance forms situate the participant as complicit in the event and their experience (and at times actions and decisions) becomes a key part of the work’s aesthetics. This relationship between participant and performance highlights not only the need for nuanced audience research to enable full analysis of the work, but also the need to better understand how the meaning-making processes interact with the intangible nature of such experiences. This is particularly important for aspects such as agency and intimacy, which become meaningful when they are experienced although within performance analysis these are frequently described only from an observational perspective.

In my experience of carrying out audience research I have observed participants make connections between their actions and the outcome of the performance in a meaningful way through the reflection that is inherent in being interviewed about your experience. I will draw on phenomenological methods of attending to experience to develop a new audience research methodology aimed at capturing and articulating participants’ intangible experience. I will employ the concept of demand characteristics (which describes the impact of a participant’s interpretation of their role on their responses and experience, defined in Breel, 2017) to focus the enquiry on how the personal dimension of ‘being a participant’ significantly shapes the individual experience.Within my presentation I will discuss a first version of an audience research method aimed at scaffolding reflection to explore the meaning-making processes at play within experiential performance, with the goal of better capturing and understanding the intangible nature of participants’ experiences.

Astrid Breel is a researcher and educator, whose practice explores participation within performance and art. Her work focuses on developing situations that enable two-way engagement between audiences and artists to create meaningful experiences of participation.Astrid’s research explores the aesthetics and ethics of participatory performance, with a focus on agency and audience experience. Her work engages with concepts of enactive and embodied cognition and takes an interdisciplinary and mixed-methods approach; drawing on performance studies, cognitive philosophy and psychology, and combining theoretical, practice-based and audience research methodologies to enable an understanding of participation that incorporates multiple perspectives. She has developed a method for analysing the aesthetic experience of participatory performance practices (published in Vol.12:1 special issue of Participations Journal of Audience and Reception Studies) and a contextual approach to agency that highlights that agency needs to be experienced to be meaningful.Astrid is the Impact Officer at Bath Spa University, where she is developing innovative methods to capture the value and meaning of intangible experiences that arise out of engagement with Arts and Humanities research. She is an Associate of Coney, who make theatre for playful audiences, and a member of artist-led organisation Residence in Bristol, UK.

Sweets, Silence & Audience Coughing: observable behaviour, interdisciplinarity and the limits of interpretation with Penelope Woods

In April 2014 a theatre production, which might have been designed by a mad audience researcher, set sail from Shakespeare’s Globe on a worldwide tour that took them to 193 countries over two years, with the same company and the same production. The company and the show remained the ‘same’ whilst the primary variable was the audience. This was a seemingly custom-made experiment in the variables of audience response to the ‘same’ production.

I am using the language of empiricism and experimentation deliberately here. In a new chapter of global audience research that has emerged this decade with the foundation of Centre for Spectatorship and Audience Research in Toronto, Canada, the International Network for Audience Research in the Performing Arts in Leeds, UK and the Sheffield Performance and Audience Research Centre in Sheffield, UK, and with the launch of a scholarly book series focussed on audience studies (series editor Kirsty Sedgman for Routledge), how do audience researchers from the humanities rather than the social sciences tackle the hermeneutic problem of observable audience behaviour and data interpretation?

In addition to the qualitative material that humanities audience researchers gather and interpret, such as interviews, surveys, social media scraping and so on, there is a wealth of observable live audience response, including: applause, laughter, coughing, fidgeting, yawning, walking out, whispering, snoozing, interjecting which is under-investigated in humanities audience research. Each of these aspects of audience response is a rich site of data collection and interpretation. A study might examine and measure: the frequency of coughing in a given performance or across the course of a production run, the timing of coughing within the performance, the density of coughing in the auditorium, the location within auditorium of coughers. Having gathered this data, however, how do audience researchers interpret it? Behavioural science might be comfortable working via hypothesis, perhaps drawing on Peter Brook’s claim that a. the great barometer of audience engagement is silence b. therefore a cough is an indication of audience boredom (There Are No Secrets, 1993), consequently c. the more an audience coughs the more disengaged they are with the performance. However, audience researchers from a humanities background find the employment of hypotheticals unfamiliar and methodologically challenging. Drawing on my own collection of data on observable audience response to the Globe to Globe Hamlet production, 2014-16, in various countries for various audiences, I offer some case studies to platform my own attempts to reconcile disciplinary approaches, methods and data and to interrogate the limits of interpretation for a new moment of theatre audience research.

Dr. Pen Woods is a lecturer in Drama at Queen Mary, University of London, specialising in practices and cultures of spectatorship and audience response, both current and historical, in theatres across the UK, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, East Asia and the Pacific. Her background is in the literary, intellectual and performance history of Europe, (University of Oxford, The Warburg Institute), performance studies, histories of emotion and ethnography (Queen Mary University of London, the Universities of Sydney and Western Australia). Woods has written on the tangibles and intangibles of spectatorship including face- scanning and the significance of audience facial expression to the mediation of performance, the ‘skill’ or practice of spectatorship, the ethics of direct address and audience response in the work of Two Gents Theatre Company, the operation of intimacy in the audience experience at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London. She is currently working on two monographs- Spectatorship Matters: Audiences at Shakespeare's Globe 2006-2016 and Guilty Creatures: Global Audiences for Hamlet 2014-2016.

Engaging Embodiments

The 'Spect-Researcher': Audiences, Sensorial Spectatorship, and the 'Performance Laboratory' with Holly Maples

There has been a growing interest in the ‘sensual turn’ in audience research, engendering studies of audience meaning-making through embodied knowledge. Many critics, however, emphasize the challenges of investigating ineffable, intangible, and embodied experience by performance spectators. How do we invite audiences to be co-investigators in the study of spectatorship and become active agents in the meaning-making, value, and experience of performance-based research? Despite the challenges, embodied and sensorial experience is becoming increasingly valued as central to public engagement and experience, therefore new methods of research are essential to study audience reception. In Ways of Sensing, Howes and Classen contend that social and political concerns of nationalism, identity, gender, and multiculturalism are shaped through sensory experience. Sensorial experience, they argue, is not only a biological or cognitive experience, but a ‘vital cultural mode’ for social connection. Artist and anthropologist Chris Salter, calls for ‘research-creators’ who create experimental, ‘performative assemblages’, to investigate sensorial audience experience from within artistic performances. Salter’s use of a ‘research-creation project’ invites artist- researchers to use sensory experience (such as light, vibration, sound, smell, and other sensory stimuli) to enable audiences to experience other cultures’ ‘ways of sensing’ (Salter, 2016). However, Salter’s work, though compelling, remains under-theorised. This paper advocates for a transformation of the performance space into a research laboratory. Through examples from my own site specific, immersive, and tactile performances in museum spaces and for the heritage industry, I desire to examine the possibilities, and limitations, of using the professional performance space as a co-creative site of research into audience experience by and for the audience.

Holly Maples is a Lecturer in Theatre at Brunel University London. Both a theatre practitioner and a scholar, she has directed productions in the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. She trained in Acting at Central School of Speech and Drama and has a Ph.D. in Drama from Trinity College Dublin. She formerly taught at University of East Anglia, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Her research examines sensorial spectatorship and public performance of collective identity in times of social change. Current research projects include “The Erotic Spectator: Theatre as the Art of Seduction” examining the public’s sensorial relationship to the theatre industry from the industrial revolution to the present, and Touching Past Lives a Heritage Lottery and Arts Council England funded performance based research project examining immersive and site specific performance for the heritage industry.

Audience Ecologies - Unfolding Shared Aesthetic Experiences with Melanie Wilmink

My academic research has always developed in conjunction with an artistic practice, where the making-of, is as important has the thinking-through. In considering immersive installation art for my dissertation, I attempt to map how aesthetic spaces prompt both embodied and critical meaning-making for spectators. This broad gesture is almost impossible to quantify with traditional audience measurements, because it is so tied to individual experience, and I have struggled measuring the effects of these experiences through any means other than my own experience.

I reconcile this problem by producing audience effects in exhibitions. By shaping aesthetic spaces, I construct environments where I can observe audience engagement, and experiment with different ways of understanding the effects. As an extension to my academic research, I have been working as curator-in- residence for Sidewalk Labs (a technologically-driven urban design project), where I have installed artwork into their office to produce a space where staff and public audiences can come together to think-through the challenge of development in Toronto. The first iteration of this residency culminated in an exhibition that explored “Shared Ecologies”, where various artworks interrogated the intersection between the human real and the non-human for Sidewalk’s Winter Warmer event on March 2, 2019.

Within this event, my curatorial gesture asked audience to consider the ways that we are imbricated, and also superfluous, to other world-views: whether that is microscopic, computer intelligences, or collaborative systems. I would like to position this idea in tension with the title of this symposium, asking not only how we understand audience emancipation and individual responses to these kinds of situations, but also how they are entangled with one another, with our questions as researchers, and with the ideas posed by the artworks. In my presentation I will discuss some of the ways that we attempted to understand audience experience through the exhibition, but also pose questions about how we might begin to understand these complex imbrications, or whether that understanding is even possible at all.

Melanie Wilmink is a doctoral candidate in Visual Art and Art History at York University, where she examines the inter-connectivity between spectatorial experience and exhibition spaces. Her ongoing research was developed through a curatorial practice where she specializes in media art and public installation. As part of this curatorial practice, she has been Sidewalk Labs’ Curator-in-Residence since October 2018. Other major projects include Urbanity on Film (2009) – a month long screening and workshop series using a mobile home and the city as an exhibition site, and The Situated Cinema Project; in camera (2015) – a two-week installation of a mobile micro-cinema in the streets of Toronto. Her recent publications include the anthology Sculpting Cinema (2018), co-edited with Solomon Nagler.

Collaborating with Audiences in Truth and Reconciliation: A consideration of the challenges - physical, sensual, ethical, and perceptual - posed to the audiences of the Mush Hole Project with Andrew Houston

The Mush Hole Project is an immersive, site-specific art and performance installation event that took place at the Woodland Cultural Centre, in Brantford, Ontario on September 16, 17 and 18, 2016. This collaborative project was a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and an attempt to preserve, query, and reveal the complex personal, political, and public narratives around Canada’s residential school system, in general, and the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School (at the Woodland Cultural Centre), in particular (see: The Mush Hole Project sought responses from artists that question the following: Apartheid, Assimilation, Decolonization, Education, Genocide, Intergenerational Trauma, the Mohawk Institute, Nourishment, Reconciliation, and Truth. Both indigenous and nonindigenous artists were welcome to propose interior and/or exterior works or creative interventions to be placed on the grounds of the Woodland Cultural Centre, and in the building of the former Mohawk Institute. Artists were encouraged to consider the residential school system through the dichotomy of both historical and contemporary knowledges and creative practices. The Mush Hole Project demanded a great deal from both artists and spectators. In this paper, I want to consider how the Mush Hole Project offered spectators an opportunity to become not only witnesses, in the sense that they were required to be present, not merely as observers, but as participants who played an active role in experiencing the site, and as such they were given a good deal of agency in how they experienced the event. It was the work of the witnesses in the Mush Hole Project to piece together the found, the building, and the fabricated, the artists’ animations. The Mush Hole Project allowed a felt and embodied knowledge of the past; in this way, it may be seen as a significant reconsideration of the idea of what it means to be an audience, attending such an event, engaging with what remains of the residential school legacy. As the animation of this site becomes less an event ruled by artistic curation of what is seen in this place of history, and more an embodied engagement with the site as an actual place, the potential for new understanding of this residential school and the forces of colonization emerges.

Andrew Houston is an artist-researcher in site-specific and intermedia performance. He is an associate professor and the Associate Chair of the Theatre and Performance program, in the Department of Communication Arts, at the University of Waterloo. For more information, please see:http://www

Flop House: Theatres of Boredom and Exhuaustion with Ariel Watson

In an age of pervasive, backlit connectedness, the darkened theatre auditorium is an incitement to oblivion, a narcotic of sustained monotasking attention. To fall asleep in a theatre seat is an (expensive) failure of spectatorship, and a critical commentary on the urgency of the performance unfolding before me. What are we to make, then, of performances that aim to lull, soothe, or bore? In Lullaby by queer cabaret Duckie and Max Richter’s more recent Sleep, spectators’ ticket purchases them eight (or more) hours in a bed. If the performance focuses your interest and attention, it fails. But what are we to retain from the experience if it “succeeds,” and we are asleep for the bulk of it? How do these performances highlight the difficulties of filtering critical response through subjective – even unconscious – bodily experiences of selfhood? What place do they open up for the layered ambiguities of subjectivity in scholarship? Sleep is transformed by these performances from an expensive failure of individual engagement into a public spectatorial performance of intimacy; you lie down, in your pajamas, next to a stranger, and wonder what theatre of sleep behavior your unconscious will perform that normally goes unwitnessed by anyone but your closest intimates. Will you resist the lulling tug of sound and image, in a battle of wills with the performers, or will you try to let go of the control that is consciousness? These questions form tangled snarls of power, aesthetics, and economics. Does a successful experience involve a sound, full night’s sleep – which your ticket barely buys you time for – or an extended waking awareness of the performance? It is impossible to get both in the allotted time. Unless, of course, we conceive of both spectatorship and performance as experiences we need not be conscious to enact and access.

Ariel McClanahan Watson is Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Drama at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her research deals variously with metatheatre, national theatre, and representations of psychotherapy and mental illness on stage. It has appeared in Modern Drama (“Cries of Fire: Psychotherapy in British and Irish Drama,” Text and Presentation (“Truth Drugs and Hothouse Flowers: The Midcentury Psychotherapy Play”), Theatre History Studies (“Birnam Wood: Scotland, Nationalism, and Theatres of War”), and Breac (“The Oedipal and the Everyday in Irish Theatre”). Her most recent article, on Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns as an “Apocalypse Masque,” appeared in Canadian Theatre Review. She is currently at work on a project involving immersive theatre, gaming, and spectatorial ethics that conceives as theatremaking as a collaborative effort of players (both actorly and spectatorial).

Emancipating 'Outsiders'

Assembling the Audience Citizen with Jenn Stephenson

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 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?

Claire Bishop in her book on participatory art, Artificial Hells, argues persuasively that the audience is not a citizen because the assemblage of people engaged in a performance is not a democracy. This is certainly a point worth unpacking further. 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] collectively negotiate[ion]” (Bishop 279). In this paper, I will 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 will read the events of one unique iteration of that performance as a theoretical document as insight into the questions: “How is a participatory audience a citizen?” and “If the audience is a citizen, how ought we to we participate?”

Jenn Stephenson is 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 (UTP, 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:

The Work of Audiences: Considering personal experience when interpreting performance with Jenny Salisbury

Responding to Jan Cohen-Cuz’s call for “engaged scholarship”, my current study on community-engaged theatre audiences “rubs up against situations in which the knowledge is tested in the lived experience” (4). This study explores what can be learned through analyzing individual reflections on performance experiences. What has emerged is a surprisingly diverse range of interpretation within a very narrow set of cultural markers. By considering four key in depth interviews from audience members of Common Boots Theatre’s The Public Servant, I expose the weakness of current models of audience experience, and push for a more sophisticated and robust framework of understanding. This paper focuses on the reflections of four audiences members: two high-ranking public servants, one accomplished mid-career public servant, and an elected politician, and the diversity of interpretation and meaning-construction within this small data set. I ask, what insights can be gained from analyzing the reflections of audience members who blur the line between insider and outsider positions? What are the ramifications for performance researchers and practitioners from this audience-centric approach?

Jenny Salisbury is a SSHRC funded Ph.D. candidate at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and PerformanceStudies at the University of Toronto. Her teaching and research interests include contemporary Canadian playcreation and devising processes, with a focus on audience, community-engaged theatre, and the role of theartist as researcher. She is co-artistic director of Common Boots Theatre. Her professional work involvesproject-based arts management, play development, directing, and community engagement. She has enjoyedsessional work at Huron university college, Western, as well as serving as the program coordinator for Ask &Imagine, a leadership program for youth and youth leaders.

The Emancipated Amateur, The Pedagogue, and the Researcher with Karen Fricker and Michelle MacArthur

Our contribution comes to the question of how and what we know about audience responses through the practice and study of theatre criticism. In a recent co-authored presentation, we applied Rancière’s concepts of the emancipated spectator and ignorant schoolmaster to theatre criticism by individuals who lack traditional legitimation in the form of a mainstream outlet, remuneration, and advanced levels of subject- specific knowledge and experience. Centring the perspectives of “emancipated amateurs” such as child/youth critics and members of the public, we argued, challenges hierarchies and assumptions around traditional criticism and has the potential to create what Rancière calls “a new scene of equality... a community of narrators and translators” (19). Amongst other welcome effects, adding previously unheard voices and perspectives to the field of theatre criticism gives theatre scholars more data to work with when exploring the meanings generated by contemporary performances.

We would like to use this CSAR gathering as an opportunity to take this inquiry further through discussion and analysis of the development of theatre criticism pedagogy to support and foster a more diverse and representative (perhaps, emancipated) field of Canadian theatre criticism, and the development of ethical methodologies for preserving and engaging with critical “translations.” In her portion of the presentation, Karen will explore her experiences co-building and co-delivering the curriculum for the Performance Criticism Training Program offered by the Toronto-based arts incubator Generator in the summer of 2018. Because the practice of theatre criticism in the Anglophone West has been heavily dominated by white male perspectives, constructing a pedagogy for an emancipated theatre critical practice necessitates a simultaneous deconstruction of existing methods and materials. This dominance has also made it difficult for researchers to develop a more inclusive view of theatre spectatorship. For her portion of the presentation, Michelle will explore the questions and challenges she has encountered in the first year of her SSHRC-funded project entitled “Gender, Genre, and Power in the Theatre Blogosphere,” which examines how bloggers writing outside of the mainstream challenge dominant perspectives and advance counter discourse.

Dr. Michelle MacArthur is assistant professor at the University of Windsor's School of Dramatic Art. Her research focuses on theatre criticism, feminist theatre, and equity and diversity in theatre. Her current, SSHRC-funded project is entitled "Gender, Genre, and Power in the Theatre Blogosphere."

Karen Fricker is Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at Brock University, Ontario, Canada; and a theatre critic at the Toronto Star. Karen’s research interests include the original stage work of Robert Lepage; contemporary circus; the Eurovision Song Contest; and the changing nature of theatre criticism in the digital age. With Charles R. Batson she is co-founder of the Circus and its Others research project, and with Charles and Veronika Štefanová co-organized the project’s second international conference in Prague in August 2018. A dedicated double issue of the peer-reviewed journal Performance Matters (4.1-2) on Circus and its Others, which Karen co-edited with Hayley Malouin, appeared in 2018. Her previous collaborations with Michelle MacArthur on theatre criticism research include co-edited issue of Canadian Theatre Review (168, 2016), and a co-presented paper at the 2018 Canadian Association of Theatre Research conference. She is the winner of a 2018 Nathan Cohen Award for excellence in critical writing, given by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association.

Towards Audiences: Post-Performance Conversations with Kathleen Gallagher and Anne Wessels

This presentation will explore the mixed-method practices and findings currently emerging from an investigation into audience response to Toward Youth, a verbatim adaptation of Kathleen Gallagher’s international, multi-year research project, Youth, Theatre, Radical Hope and the Ethical Imaginary: An intercultural investigation of drama pedagogy, performance and civic engagement (currently being stage by Project Humanity at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre). Special attention will be given to the impact of short, “guerilla- style” interviews being conducted immediately following the performances for school and general audiences and what they reveal about how theatre can shape our understanding of youth and their civic engagement. An extended abstract to follow at the conclusion of the run.

Kathleen Gallagher is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Toronto. Previously, she held two Canada Research Chairs and in 2017 won the University of Toronto inaugural President’s Impact Award for research impact beyond the academy. In 2018 she won the David E. Hunt Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and has garnered over 7 million dollars in SSHRC and other research funding. She has been a Salzburg Seminar Fellow and two of her books have won awards from the American Education Research Association. Her books include, Why Theatre Matters: Urban Youth, Engagement, and a Pedagogy of the real(University of Toronto Press, 2014); The Theatre of Urban: Youth and Schooling in Dangerous Times (U of T Press, 2007) Drama Education in the Lives of Girls: Imagining Possibilities (U of T Press, 2000). Her edited collections include: The Methodological Dilemma Revisited: Creative, Critical and Collaborative Approaches to Qualitative Research for a New Era (Routledge 2018); In Defence of Theatre: Aesthetic Practices and Social Interventions. (with Barry Freeman, U of T Press 2016); Drama and Theatre in Urban Contexts (with Jonothan Neelands, Routledge 2013); The Methodological Dilemma: Creative, Critical and Collaborative Approaches to Qualitative Research (Routledge, 2008); and How Theatre Educates: Convergences and Counterpoints with Artists, Scholars, and Advocates (with David Booth, U of T Press, 2003). Dr. Gallagher has published many articles on theatre, youth, pedagogy, methodology and gender and travels widely giving international addresses and workshops for practitioners. Her research continues to focus on questions of youth civic engagement and artistic practice, and the pedagogical and methodological possibilities of theatre.

Anne Wessels’ doctoral research analyzed performances of the suburb and the intersection of youth,pedagogy, drama, and place. After graduating from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at theUniversity of Toronto, she won the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies Dissertation Award and theARTS Doctoral Graduate Research Award. She has published four book chapters and articles in TheatreResearch in Canada; Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance; Pedagogy, Culture andSociety; Youth Theatre Journal; Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy; Research in Science Education; NJ DramaAustralia Journal and Ethnography and Education. A graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, Anne iscurrently the Education Director at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and has taught at the University ofToronto, the University of Windsor, Centennial College and the Peel District School Board.

Conclusion: Response & Future Conversation

With Respondent Barry Freeman

Barry Freeman is an Associate Professor in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough as well as the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. His 2017 book Staging Strangers: Theatre and Global Ethics (McGill-Queen’s University Press), draws on ethical philosophy and the sociology of globalization to offer a fresh critique of contemporary theatre in Canada. His 2016 co-edited book In Defence of Theatre: Aesthetic Practices and Social Interventions (University of Toronto Press), assembles essays from nineteen academics, educators and artists from across Canada to address the question: why theatre now? Barry is Associate Editor of Canadian Theatre Review, recently editing issues on the subjects of ‘Alternative Globalizations’, ‘Performing Politicians’, and ‘(Post-)Reality’.

Presented at the Luella Massey Studio Theatre at the University of Toronto

Information taken from the CSAR May 4th Welcome Packet distrubuted to participants.

bottom of page