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Title:Talking back: audience collaboration and intervention in modernist and postwar drama
Author(s):Sheets, Frank
Director of Research:Mahaffey, Vicki
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mahaffey, Vicki
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hansen, James A.; Hohman, Valleri J.; Stenport, Anna W.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Modern British Drama
Modern Irish Drama
Modernist Studies
Literary Modernism
Twentieth-Century Literature
Twentieth-Century Drama
Audience Studies
Performance Studies
Experimental Theatre
Avant-Garde Theatre
Abstract:When audiences talk back, either by responding or retorting, the line between performers and audience members blurs, bringing into relief the relationship between spectatorship and agency. The dramas of W. B. Yeats, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, and John Arden pursue such a blurring by positioning spectators as collaborators rather than passive bodies upon whom the production works. My study demonstrates how these plays represent a hitherto unrecognized strand of modernist and postwar conceptions of the audience‑actor relationship. Auden, for instance, viewed spectators as part of the “troupe,” stating that if “you are seeing and hearing you are co-operating.” Auden’s perspective differs greatly from other modernist theories of audience, many of which seek to divide, shock, or instruct spectators. Instead of examining how modernist alienation manifests itself in the theatre, my study demonstrates how this shift toward active audience involvement occurred during the interwar and immediate postwar eras and thus dramatized newly urgent questions about political participation and ethical responsibility. Whether through intimate staging, direct addresses to the audience, or by bringing spectators onstage, these plays dramatize questions of political and ethical agency while also providing new, invigorating ways for spectators to “co-operate” with the performance. By fully demonstrating the import and lasting influence of this strand, my dissertation posits a new framework for thinking of twentieth-century theatre history: one that focuses on what audiences give to performances instead of what performances require of them.
Issue Date:2014-09-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Ryan Sheets
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-09-16
Date Deposited:2014-08

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