Being the Audience

Who are we, the audience, to the piece and to each other?

1.At the beginning of each performance I look around the room at all of us convened together, ready to pay attention to the coming event. Who are we to whom this show matters enough for us to pause our to-do lists momentarily and sit waiting to give our attention to something beyond our own responsibilities? What else do we have in common other than that we are here together? We will share a visceral experience of witnessing, but we will likely see, hear and remember very different accounts of the same event. Each of us is choosing to give over our bodies so that our lives can be temporally held in time by the structure of the piece instead of just holding our shape together through our own doing. For me being the audience is often a pleasant sense of surrender, even if it is surrender into discomfort.

2.When I look at the other people’s faces in the audience at Miguel Gutierrez’s show, we are all sitting scrunched on the floor of the stage, where he commanded us to settle, our legs and arms wound around us in hopes of not invading each other’s 1/4 inch of personal space while our smells: sweat, breath and the odors from inside of shoes betray our attempts at proprietary. Behind me a face looks back at me full of the uncomfortable sense that he is not the person this piece was made for. Miguel said at the beginning of his performance “you’re all artists here, right?” and as I get my bearings with his piece I realize it is even more specifically for an audience of people who are interested in thinking about what goes into making a work of art in order to teach that to others. I am that person at times in my life and so I feel willing to go along with wherever Miguel takes us, even if my foot is getting numb. Our physical and social discomfort as audience members is harnessed into being a part of the piece: Miguel’s live set design. But for that other guy behind me it all just meant he is stuck being out of place.

3.Sitting in the balcony at the Winningstad during El Rumor Del Incendio I feel the performance is being launched at me, but missing its mark. I think about how difficult it is for me to identify with the political motivations of the woman protagonist or with her various revolutionary comrades. While most of the play is a narration of Mexican historical events in Spanish with subtitles projected onto a screen, they never mention the back story of the political conditions that necessitated these particular people’s radicalization. I have neither the background knowledge of Mexican history or the personal allegiance to armed revolution to respond intuitively with sympathy to the characters. I ask myself why the artists chose to tell the story in this way with so much information and yet without basic context. Who do they envision us to be as their audience? How do they want us to respond to what they are presenting? Do they expect us to be so certainly the cultural left that we naturally side with all socialist activists? (Usually I am a pretty easy sell with idealistic political content.) This piece wasn’t composed for TBA audiences. It was first performed in the artists home country and has been touring Europe, Canada and the US. I wish I could hear the artists wonder amongst themselves how each of these different audiences will experience their work. By the next performance I see from them, Asalto al Agua Transparente, I feel trained into their staccato mode of performing and surrender much more willingly.

Ariana Jacob

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2 Responses to Being the Audience

  1. angela mattox says:

    I wonder what this means ” not composed for a tba audience” . lets talk more about what is expected in this framework.

  2. presscorps says:

    In mentioning that the piece wasn’t composed by artists planning to present specifically to Portland’s audiences I wanted to acknowledge that these artists may have assumed a level of basic knowledge of Mexican history from their audience that some people in Portland, at least myself, do not have. This is my own loss of context through lack of knowledge. I definitely did not mean to ask for the works in TBA be tailored to me, or to Portland. ( And how many various kinds of audiences exist under the Portland umbrella?) My intention was to bring up how different it is to experience a work where I can feel that I am somehow invoked by the piece as its intended audience vs when a work imagines it is speaking to someone else. While it might seem slightly metaphysical, I think it is relevant to understanding art to consider who a work imagines and hopes for as its audience. I’d love to talk more about this.


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