Quebec Studies

The Contemporary Theater and Its Public in Québec

Quebec Studies (1983), 1, (1), 166–177.

Abstract

The Contemporary Theater and Its Public in QuCbec Jonathan M.Weiss Theater exists only insofar as it has an audience. This selfevident truth is now accepted by all theater critics, whether they be of the sociological variety or, more recently, of the semiological school. The pioneer of French theatrical structuralists, Anne Ubersfeld, recognizes that “it is the spectator, far more than the director, who creates the performance,”’ and Jean Duvignaud, the best known of the French sociologists of theater, echoes this sentiment, adding that the function of an audience is to “complete the suggestion proposed by the group of people on the stage.”* We have come a long way from the time, not many years ago, when theatrical criticism was most often limited to an analysis of the written text, as if this item alone could represent the play in its entirety. But theater directors and practitioners didn’t wait for the critics to recognize the importance of the audience in the process of dramatic creation. In France, the area with which I am most familiar, they began thinking about the composition of their audiences as early as the end of the nineteenth century. The director AndrC Antoine was concerned about attracting certain types of people to his Thkftre Libre, and later to his ThCftre Antoine, because he knew that the type of repertory he wanted to present was only possible if the avant-garde public, with adventurous tastes, frequented his theater. Later, Jacques Copeau spent his entire lifetime trying to create an elite audience, whose esthetic tastes would be influenced by him and his theater, and which he could “pass on like an inheritance” to future generations of theater director^.^ The proponents of “popular theater” (that is, working-class theater) in France went even further; not only did they undertake an analysis of the relationship between the theatrical phenomenon and the mass audience but they tried to transform his relationship and later, influenced by Brecht,

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Weiss, Jonathan