Audience as Witness

Forced Entertainment -Speak Bitterness

Figure 4: “SPEAK BITTERNESS” (Forced Entertainment,1994)

In this opening blog I want to look at the audience in the role of  “Witness” and  to use Forced Entertainment as a case study. I feel Tim Etchell’s proposed contract of openness with the audience links to the concept of  the  witness. In Devising Performance (2006), Deirdre Heddon & Jane Milling describe this contract as an encounter,  they describe moments of silence, where performer observes the audience and attention is drawn to the contract of “watching” between the audience and the performer.

Witness implies an element of responsibility to the  performer, suggesting there is a vulnerability or shame being portrayed.   The above image of the empty set of the production SPEAK BITTERNESS (1994) could suggest the form of a conference, a jury or a tribunal.  In this image of empty set and empty auditorium hangs the expectation  of performance. Forced Entertainment continue to challenge audience expectations, the performance was described as “…broken narratives of the confessional” which the audience witness over 6 hours. (Louise Gray,2010) This durational element tests each individual witness as they laugh, tire, question, bore and relate to different elements of the performers confessions.

Aside: Challenging  audience expectations is not a new idea.  For example the audience expectation of a Greek tragedy is that it opens with a prologue from the chorus. Uncharacteristically the opening lines in Oedipus the King are from Oedipus himself. At a recent seminar I attended entitled “Pitying Oedipus” given by Professor Patrick Finglass (University of Nottingham) he noted that this change in audience expectation may have been to lead to an instinctive mistrust of Oedipus.

More recently Forced Entertainment experimented with the form of a pub quiz with a similar durational confessional piece Quizoola! of which there is a clip below. The Independent reviews Quizzoola as; “A performance that changes the rule book”. (Louise Gray,2010) The pub quiz form, clown make-up and improvised humour invites the audience to laugh but yet again there are times when the role of witness is apparent as the atmosphere changes to deeply personal responses or  absurd aggressive interrogation. The audience expectation and response as witness hold great weight in shaping the atmosphere of Forced Entertainment’s performances. Again there are moments of silence to force the witness to reflect. This is not unique to Forced Entertainment, as Helen Freshwater notes;“The confrontational stare, where performers, out of character, stand & silently watch an audience, has now become a recognisable theatrical trope.” (2013:50)

Aside: If you fancy it this is a clip of Quizoola, it’s a bit long (30 mins) so here is my favourite Q&A witnessed. Q: “Would you rather have sex with a sheep or a pig?”A: “A sheep… obviously”

Figure 5 “Quizoola” (Forced Entertainment, 2013)

To navigate to the next blog, Audience as participant, click here

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