Dennis Kennedy freely admits in his introduction to The Spectator and the Spectacle that his book presents neither a single argument nor a unified narrative of history, theatrical or otherwise. Instead, he calls the book a "gathering of thoughts" (4) about specific issues and problems of spectatorship. Kennedy takes the title of his introduction, "Assisting at the Spectacle," from a literal translation of the French assister au spectacle, which he notes "means in colloquial English simply 'to be present at a performance'" (5). If there is an argument in The Spectator and the Spectacle, it is that audiences are absolutely central to performance, and that an imagined boundary between spectator and participant breaks down upon close inspection.
Examples of theatrical spectatorship examined by Kennedy vary widely, including audiences at André Antoine's Théâtre Libre, Harley Granville Barker's Stage Society, Shakespearean productions across the globe, and Teyyam ritual dances in Kerala, India. He also considers extra-theatrical spectatorship at events like sporting matches, gambling, game shows, museums, and religious rituals. According to Kennedy theorists of spectatorship confront a variety of challenges: audiences are heterogeneous, individual spectators may be unwilling attendees, and recollected memories of performance are usually partial and often inaccurate. He acknowledges these problems, but does not always surmount them.
The book consists of three parts. In the three chapters that constitute part 1, "The Problem of the Spectator," Kennedy offers a detailed trajectory of scholarship on theatre audiences, semiotics, and modes of performance; he also explores the problematic aspects of researching audiences and the ways audiences restrain their responses. In the second chapter, "The Director, the Spectator and the Eiffel Tower," he considers what directing means to the spectator: the way the work of art as the product of a single artist shapes audience perception (although Kennedy also concedes that "the relationship of the director to the spectator is both distant and theoretical") (47). The final chapter in part 1, "The Avant-garde and the Audience"—perhaps the strongest in the book—examines how "specific avant-gardes positioned their potential audiences and how . . . those audiences responded" (50). Here, Kennedy applies Pierre Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital to provocative productions by artists from Marinetti to Schechner, showing how they have trained new audiences for the theatre.
In part 2, "Shakespeare and the Politics of Spectation," the focus on spectatorship recedes slightly, giving way to superb critical analysis of Shakespearean performance and directing internationally. Kennedy examines how both East and West deployed Shakespeare during the cold war as a sort of "cultural [End Page 494] Marshall plan" (81), and how Peter Brook and Peter Hall rehabilitated more obscure Shakespearean plays after World War II. In chapter 5, "The Spectator as Tourist" he proposes that spectators attend the theatre not to see a mirror of their own lives, but to experience the foreign and unfamiliar. Combining theories of theatre and tourism, he shows how theatre attendance can be a form of cultural tourism, particularly at sites such as the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe in London. In chapter 6, "Interculturalism and the Global Spectator," Kennedy discusses artists, including Ariane Mnouchkine, Brook, and Yukio Ninagawa, whose productions mingle signs and cultures, tying familiar Shakespearean texts to unfamiliar theatrical conventions in ways that destabilize audience response. He concludes part 2 with "The Body of the Spectator" (chapter 7), which explores productions aimed at small audiences, particularly Trevor Nunn's Macbeth (1976) and Othello (1989) at The Other Place. In this chapter, Kennedy argues that intimate theatre cannot be mistaken for television, but that it nonetheless benefits from an audience's experience of filmic acting conventions and the close-up shot.
In part 3, "Subjectivity and the Spectator," Kennedy abandons theatre for other genres of performance. Here, he explores the Bakhtinian carnivalesque of sporting events and spectatorship, paradoxically commodified and contained by consumer culture. He then discusses the psychologically aroused spectatorship that emerges when boundaries between participation and watching are blurred. Spectator response to lotteries, gambling, and game shows such as The Price Is Right...