- Authenticity in Contemporary Theatre and Performance: Make it Real by Daniel Schulze
In a culture dependent on manufactured objects and mediated experiences, audiences thirst for authenticity. This is the premise of Authenticity in Contemporary Theatre and Performance: Make it Real, which examines contemporary audiences’ desire for truthful experiences and the unconventional methods artists use to deliver those experiences. Schulze argues that the demand for authenticity within the obviously contrived realm of theatrical performance demonstrates that a new “structure of feeling” (a term borrowed from Raymond Williams) is emerging. Schulze engages with theatrical practice by examining productions that either claimed to achieve authenticity or challenged such notions, drawing from his experiences as an audience member to detail a substantial body of productions mounted in the United Kingdom during the last two decades. Paying particular attention to works by Forced Entertainment and Punchdrunk, Schulze connects his from-the-audience field notes with extant theory on authenticity in the theatrical experience.
In the first of five chapters, Schulze draws on theories by Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, and Fredric Jameson to firmly establish authenticity as a cultural phenomenon, one which emerged as a concept in Greek antiquity, came into demand during the European Renaissance, and grew into the current post-postmodern structure of feeling evident in British theatre. Through Wolfgang Funk, Robin van den Akker, and Timotheus Vermeulen, Schulze then argues that postmodernism, with its “irony, detachment and pastiche,” is being supplanted by desires for “telos, engagement and closure” (2). He refers to this post-postmodernism as “Metamodernism,” a “shorthand if you will, to describe the current state of affairs” on this side of industrialization (2).
The second chapter, on intimate theatre, examines the work of Forced Entertainment, a company that alters the audience-performer relationship through “experimental and non-hierarchical” approaches, including audience involvement (68). Schulze discusses precisely how particular productions have attempted to achieve authenticity. He begins with Forced Entertainment’s 1996 Showtime, which opened with an actor greeting the spectators: “An audience likes to sit in the dark and watch other people do it” (71). Accusations of voyeurism turned the performance into an authentic political event, Schulze claims, with the audience “struggling . . . to find their own, individual place in the system called theatre” (76). He frames this analysis using Jacques Ranciere’s “emancipated spectator” concept, as well as Brechtian and Artaudian theories. He also analyzes Forced Entertainment’s The Coming Storm, Speak Bitterness, and Quizoola!, at times questioning whether their [End Page 116] barrier-breaking and intimacy-invoking strategies provide the truthful experiences audiences seek, or merely well-delivered simulacrums.
Drawing largely on Josephine Machon’s work on visceral performance, the chapter on immersive theatre pays particular attention to the work of Punchdrunk, “the game-changing company who’ve done more to catapult [immersive theatre] into the heart of our culture than any other” (166). After introducing the form’s approaches and aesthetic strategies (including non-theatrical playing spaces where audiences interact corporeally with the set, props, and actors), Schulze provides critiques by Alice Jones and Gareth White, who question the use of tactics that destabilize audiences’ boundaries. Schulze then narrates his own experiences at Punchdrunk’s The Masque of the Red Death and The Drowned Man. His accounts illuminate how the productions blurred the boundaries between authenticity and theatricality; for instance, during The Masque, the smell of wax burning caused him “to lose track of theatricalities, such as spotlights or sound emanating from somewhere” (169), effectively immersing him in the performance.
The chapter on documentary theatre is similarly well-organized into an introduction of the origins and definitions of “DT,” aesthetic strategies of the genre, and several case studies. Schulze is dubious about DT’s claim to authenticity, despite its source material originating in “the real world” (199). He assesses productions that adhered to the genre’s claims to authenticity by right of facticity (Talking to Terrorists, Stuff Happens, and Black Watch), and contrasts those with productions that challenged notions of authenticity and facticity (Enron, Taking Care of Baby...