Saturday, 18 January 2014

Debord come up with Deideas.

This evening's selected highlight from Glasgow University library is Audiences by Abercrombie and Longhurst. Although it was published in 1988, I'm rattling through it to find out a little more about the people that so many theorists insist are essential for theatre... and then ignore.

Inevitably, the dynamic duo begin by identifying audience categories. Although it might sound insulting, the theatre audience is generally 'simple' (as opposed to 'mass' or 'diffused,' not smart or clever). The communication is direct (that is, stage to auditorium), there is a great deal of 'ceremony' (turning up on time, getting dressed, clapping at the end), it happens in public (notwithstanding the odd show where it's me and a dog in the theatre), and they pay attention. A diffused audience is one where they sit alone at a keyboard, flicking between tabs and wearing their underpants while eating nachos.

Abercrombie and Longhurst get especially interesting around page 80, when they bring in Debord. I am not sure whether I like Debord because he is kind of cool, having a 1960s' mystique and throwing about big ideas that sound a bit anarchic: but his idea of 'the spectacle' gives me problems. Debord says that the spectacle is basically what happens when the dominant ideology has so much control that there is nothing else to see: in the contemporary world, it's the way that everything is commodified. Everyone and everything is performing (not being natural, or honest, but pretending). This makes going to the theatre a bit of a waste of time. Why pay to see Sir Larry do Lear, when there is a tramp performing homelessness, alcoholism and insanity on Sauchiehall Street. And, as Schechner says - it's all performance.

My interest in the audience comes from a belief that meaning is not made on the stage, but in the minds of the observers. Okay, that's trying to give the critic a bit more power ('Sure, you put on the play, wrote it, learnt the lines and acted... but I watched it, buddy'). It turns out that this is essentially reader-response theory, which is going out of fashion in the face of semiotic and post-structuralism. Naturally.

My worry is that theatre is just another part of the spectacle: the grand spectacle of twenty-first century consumerism has episodes called 'live art' and 'drama.' I still have a sentimental hope that it is possible to see past the Big Spectacle, to get a handle on 'truth.' That truth might be ugly - like if Beckett is right, and it is all absurd - or beautiful. But I'd like a look at it, and the Big Spectacle is getting in the way.

I want the little spectacle to help me see past it.

I just need new spectacles.

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