Precarious spectatorship

Theatre and image in an age of emergencies

Author: Sam Haddow

This book is about the relationship between emergencies and the spectator. In the early twenty-first century, ‘emergencies’ are commonplace in the newsgathering and political institutions of western industrial democracies. From terrorism to global warming, the refugee crisis to general elections, the spectator is bombarded with narratives that seek to suspend the criteria of everyday life in order to address perpetual ‘exceptional’ threats. I argue that repeated exposure to these narratives through the apparatuses of contemporary technology creates a ‘precarious spectatorship’, where the spectator’s ability to rationalise herself, or her relationship with the object of her spectatorship, is compromised.

In terms of the ways in which emergencies are dramatized for the spectator, this book focuses primarily on the framing and distribution of images. Because images are cheap and easy to produce; because they can be quickly and limitlessly distributed; because they are instantly affective and because they can be easily overwritten, they have become a pre-eminent tool in the performance of emergencies. In response to this, the book proposes theatrical performance as a space in which the relationship between the spectator and emergencies may be critically examined, and I analyse a range of contemporary theatrical pieces which challenge the spectator under the aegis of emergencies.

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