L is for Low-level fascism

| April 29, 2014

Immersive theater, continued…

Not long after the immersive genre has really begun to expand, critics are bemoaning it, as the critic for London’s The Guardian writes:

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2009/dec/07/theatre-punchdrunk

“If you’ve seen one too many “immersive” pieces of theatre, the shock and excitement of sharing a space with the actors can just simply wear off…I have the feeling that it is quite easy for the coinage of this type of theatre to get somewhat debased. What, on initial encounters, felt like an exciting, experimental trend can start to feel predictable and hackneyed…As we left the theatre, I found myself saying to my friend: “For god’s sake, bring back the fourth wall.”225

This article implies primarily an aesthetic critique and, as we all know, there is no accounting for taste. Yet author and theatre critic Michael Coveney is equally disillusioned:

“I had been passed through a moshing, baying crowd, been shoved in a cupboard while “robbing” a sleeping woman (who woke up) and sent down a chute to a rubbish tip. My humiliation was completed at a karaoke bar where a gameshow host made me sing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” to a small, uninterested audience”.

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/you-me-bum-bum-train-one-on-one-theatre/#.U1_pu_SwLgI

But he goes on to accuse the interactivity of posing an “illusion of empowerment”, ironically labeling the genre “low-level fascism.” Interactivity has become, at least in some instances, “bullying” and “coerciveness”, according to Coveney, the opposite of its democratizing ideals, and surely a worse political metaphor than Ranciere’s oppressive soft-seaters. All of this is only to caution overly definite political symbolization. Surely theatre is variable enough to liberate a seated audience, and oppress one that gets to walk around.