“We are now at least equally likely to look at the theatre experience in a more global way, as a sociocultural event whose meanings and interpretations are not to be sought exclusively in the text being performed but in the experience of the audience assembled to share in the creation of the total event.”—Marvin Carlson, Places of Performance
Theatre and Space is a wide-ranging topic, opening discussion to myriad spatial arrangements, architectural styles, and historical contexts. Yet despite the global nature of the theme, no discussion of theatre and space quite works without consideration of the audience as central to the spatial relationships created. Whether we are reflecting upon the ancient Greek theatre with its semi-circular audience arrangement wrapping around the playing space, or the contemporary trend of immersive spaces in which audience members are often free to move about at will, our use of space in the theatre is intentional and inextricably linked to how we hope the audience will be impacted. We utilize space in particular ways to engage audiences in the storytelling experience; without the presence of a live audience, our efforts though not meaningless lack immediacy, as evidenced by recent “live” television broadcasts of popular musical theatre offerings such as Peter Pan and The Wiz. To that end, how effectively do different theatre spaces function? Is there a particular spatial relationship that lends greater impact to imagery in the theatre and, thereby, meaning? How have theatrical spaces changed over time? What happens when non-theatre spaces are used for theatrical performance? Is there a “politics” of space? Can space be “gendered”? And what happens when the performance space is a virtual space, rather than a physical one? These and many other questions were considered as thirty-five theatre scholars/practitioners gathered for Theatre Symposium 24, April 10–12, 2015, on the campus of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Regardless of our focus on theatre and space, nearly every conversation that we had during our time together inevitably led us back to a living, breathing aspect linking them together: the audience. [End Page 5]
In a time when so many options for entertainment are easy to access, it is no surprise that theatre practitioners and scholars are preoccupied with the role of the audience. While space undoubtedly impacts the rehearsal and production processes, its greater significance seems to rest in the impact a specific location and its use has on the audience. As Marvin Carlson observed in his keynote presentation, the theatre lobby functions as a kind of “mimetic airlock,” ushering audiences into theatrical space, presumably preparing them for their encounters with mimetic expression. Likewise in his closing remarks, Carlson aptly pointed to the ways in which audience expectations are sometimes thwarted—and possibly ignited—by nontraditional uses of space and nonmimetic performance modes. Whether traversing traditional theatre spaces—as discussed by symposium presenters Gregory Carr in his research on the African Grove Theatre; Tony Gunn in his examination of Edward Gorey’s theatrical designs; and George Pate in his reflection on Beckett’s stage directions—or venturing through decidedly innovative spaces—as described by J. K. Curry in her examination of Theatre for One; Susan Kattwinkel in her reflection on cultural spaces; Carla Lahey in her discussion of modern uses of medieval sacred spaces; Elizabeth Kling in her description of classical opera recontextualized in a bar setting; and Christopher Peck in his analysis of the immersive production Then She Fell—the audience’s essential role is to complete the theatre-and-space relationship. For without the audience there is no one to observe the traditional “fourth wall” of realism, witness the transgressing of that wall, or mingle with actors and other viewers in an immersive setting. Without an audience, the performance space becomes a kind of void, lacking the necessary component to let it live. Or does it? According to symposium presenter (and author in this volume) Lisa Marie Bowling, theatre spaces hold their own materiality, evoking “life” experiences that mark and shape their existence. Yet even in light of philosophical conceptions of a building’s richly storied materiality, space is indelibly empowered by the audience’s...