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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: May 2020

Chapter 5 - Designing the Spectator


Theatre has always been “immersive”: it would be hard to say that Athenian spectators, sitting among their tribe, watching its members compete for a prize in singing and dancing dithyrambs, or the courtiers in the highly charged political and social atmosphere of a Stuart masque, or postwar European tourists crossing into East Berlin to see the Berliner Ensemble were not immersed in a complex social and theatrical event. At the same time, though, both the spread and conceptual grip of the aesthetic, architecture, practice, and ideology of proscenium realism from the 1880s – “an inevitable consequence of the incandescent bulb,” according to Brander Matthews (Study of the Drama 64) – and the reactive rise of a range of more participatory spectacles influenced, however eccentrically, by Antonin Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski, and environmental theatre in the 1970s, has lent the patina of innovation to the rhetoric of contemporary immersion. Phrased at the intersection of theatre and digital media, where cognate notions of “immersion” and “interactivity” were initially explored, and conceptualized in reaction to the conventions of proscenium performance, immersive theatre articulates not only a changing sense of the uses of theatre, but a complex understanding of the technicity of contemporary theatre as well. Modeling the activity of the spectator as a particular genre of technically mediated, prostheticized freedom, immersive theatre claims a strategy of innovation as a successive transformation to the dominant scenic technology of the twentieth century: the frontally oriented, darkened proscenium house and the function it ascribes to its technologically mediated public.

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