The subject of this chapter is at once both utterly obvious and bafflingly inexplicable. While on the one hand it is a commonplace that theatre needs, at minimum, both performers and audience, on the other hand, there is rarely sufficient questioning of what it is that audiences do. What does the presence of an audience bring to the dynamic of a performance? In Jerzy Grotowski’s words, theatre is ‘what takes place between spectator and actor’ (32). But what is it that actually takes place? Consider the list of questions we could ask about that relationship between spectator and actor: Are audiences passive receptacles for a performance’s meaning, ideally infused with the sense of the actors’ performance but in danger, on the flip side, of utterly failing to understand what the performance is telling them?Or does an audience participate in a performance, bringing their own reactions and sensibilities to bear upon the meanings that are created in performance? Are they makers of meaning rather than receptacles for it?Is an audience a collective body, something of which we can speak in the singular?Or are audiences collections of individual bodies, an aggregation of many different responses that should more accurately be described in the plural?
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