REVIEW: Theatre & Audience - Helen Freshwater

Theatre & Audience (Helen Freshwater: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

"What does theatre do for - and to - those who witness, watch and participate in it?"

This was the blurb on the back of the book, which immediately grabbed my attention as it is one of the elements of my inquiry!

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The questions raised in this book are extremely interesting, investigating the roots of theatre, audience interaction and the effects of different types of theatre on audiences.

Subjects touched on include the perception of the audience from the point of view of a playwright, director or actor: the difficulties inherent in classifying a group response rather than an individual one; the role of critics and many more.

"...'modes of attention' are subject to change over time as developments in technology provide us with new forms of perception." (BANES & LEPECKI, P.4)

This quote stood out to me as it may provide one of the explanations for the rise in popularity of New Theatre; as audiences have been previously exposed to wider thinking through the internet, social media and international news coverage, as well as the violence and extreme behaviour displayed in popular films and even television shows, their tastes and preferences for live performance, too, will have developed.

I made lots of notes!

One thing I did find particularly pertinent to my line of inquiry was that there has been very little research into the effects of theatre on an audience. There are studies and essays on audience effects from film, television and other media, and theatre studies looking at demographics (as with my previous literature review), yet with theatre, the actual effects seem to have been left to the critics, who, as the book states, may have very different reactions for a variety of reasons to the majority of the audience. The case that springs to mind immediately is the opening night of Les Miserables, as this musical was panned by the critics yet is one of the longest running, highest grossing and most popular musicals worldwide.

After reading this I have had a lot of new ideas to consider, and it has consolidated my intention to look at the reactions of the audience in response to New Theatre: it is something that is apparently under-researched and yet would be of use to companies and theatres when programming new works to be able to more accurately predict an audience response.

References (cited within text reviewed)
Banes, Sally & Lepecki, Andre: The Senses in Performance, Routledge, 2006


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