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Spectatorial Interruption at the ASTR Conference

November 5th-8th 2020

"Spectral Interruption: Audience Research as Revision" with Kelsey Jacobson, Scott Mealey, Kelsey Blair, and Jenny Salisbury.

The goal for this session was to facilitate a spirited discussion about how current empirical findings in audience research could help us reimagine ongoing conversations in spectatorship studies and theatre theory writ large.

There is a delimiting effect to the oft-repeated refrain that audience research is persistently understudied in the fields of theatre and performance studies (Reinelt 2014; Freshwater 2009; Park- Fuller 2003). Matthew Reason and Kirsty Sedgman articulate in 2015 a “partial disciplinary myopia, a failure to look across the boundaries of subjects or methodologies” (117) and Wilmar Sauter (2019) cautions that, “Today there is a risk that these [audience research] methods will be or are being invented again and again without reference to earlier results” (48). Despite this chronology of false starts and unnecessary repeats, there is reason to believe that theatre audience research currently finds itself in a moment of kairos. Evidenced by partnerships such as the International Network for Audience Research in the Performing Arts and the formation of the Centre for Spectatorship and Audience Research, twenty-first century performance scholars are poised to more permanently weave a spectator-centric timeline into the broader tapestry of theatre scholarship.

This working group aimed to bolster the potentiality of this kairotic moment by deliberately considering the role of audience research as interventionist within the broader field of theatre and performance studies. We aimed to both firmly position audience research as central and integral to the discipline, and in turn invigorate the discipline with new approaches, understandings, and methods. How might, for instance, audience research renew, renege, or otherwise intervene in ongoing theatrical conversations around liveness, change, participation, archive, or affect? If the audience studies field has been “determinedly studying how people from different subject positions and social locations actively make sense of things by drawing on varying ‘cultural reference points, political beliefs, sexual preferences, personal histories, and immediate preoccupations,’” (Freshwater, p. 6 qtd in Sedgman 2019) how can a turn toward audiences infuse notions of multiplicity, diversity, and disruption into familiar debates?

Focused on empirical findings, this working group invited audience and spectatorship scholars to articulate how recurring conversations and ideas in theatre and performance theory may be reworked and renegotiated - repeated without repetition - based on increasing awareness of the spectatorial perspective. How is 21st-century audience research interacting not only with previous conversations in the field but also the wider world of theatre scholarship? How, for instance, is it altering our understanding of liveness? Of change? Of participation? Of affect? Of archiving? 

Presented at the 2020 ASTR (American Society for Theatre Research) Conference in New Orleans.

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