The natural place for the play: outdoor Shakespeares, environment, and an ethnography of audience experience
O'Malley, Evelyn Mary
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Sensitive material from ethnographic research. Also to allow the thesis to be turned into a monograph.
This thesis asks, in what ways do audience members perceive the environment to be contributing to outdoor Shakespeares, even when the performance-makers are not attempting site-specificity in their practice? It seeks to consider where practice, research, and theory arising in connection with site-specific and ecological theatre and performance-making might illuminate the reception of Shakespeare’s plays in outdoor settings, and whether there is potential for the audience responses to be put into a dialogue with some of the claims made for self-consciously site-specific and ecological performance forms in turn. How might audience responses productively challenge the ways we think about place and environment at these performances? And what, if anything, might be at stake for nature, environment, and ecology in the reception of this very particular kind of cultural event? Working with ethnographic observations and with the records of conversations gathered through one hundred and fifty-six semi-structured interviews conducted face-to-face with two hundred and seventy-three participants during summers 2013 and 2014, the four chapters analyse these encounters with audiences, environment, and Shakespeare. The ethnographic methodology aspires to allow previously unheard audience members to account for their own experiences, despite the ethnographer’s role in crafting of the final chapters, and despite the acknowledgement that ‘experience’ in the positivist sense cannot be captured and served up as writing. The written ethnography puts themes identified in the interviews into conversation with theoretical discourses around place and environment, shifting carefully between ecophenomenological and broadly materialist approaches. Extracts of audience interviews form the core and the through-line of the chapters. The research subsequently contributes to the fields of Shakespearean ecocriticism, site-specific theatre, ecology and performance, and audience research. Throughout, the argument is that turning our attention towards the nonhuman world, and to how it is perceived and framed by audience members at these performance events, urges us to consider outdoor Shakespeares as united by their happening outdoors, in weather, and contingent upon their (culturally contingent) outdoor contexts, prior to classifying them by other spatial configurations or aesthetic arrangements.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
PhD in Drama