Jack Robert Coopey, our film theorist, shares with us his theatre theories and those of Ranciere’s Emancipated Spectator on the gaze. 


To see and to be, the gaze and the act, what separates the two existentialities of Dasein, is a reflection at either end of a pole of the subjectivity.  It perceives either, emancipated from the prior occupation, perceiving or doing. These two very human aspects of our constitution, elaborate an interesting relation to the Other, one in which we will analyze, and how theatre operates on this relation. Jacques Ranciere’s Emancipated Spectator is a text which shall be used to guide our analysis of not only the history of theatre, from the Greek Polis to the Brechtian iconoclasm of the fourth wall and beyond, but also to enunciate that contemporary theatre, alongside art as a general term to collate all modes of subjective expression, is obsolete, given the currents of the contemporary socio-politico economic context and relevant conditions. This article shall form an element of a theatre series I wish to continue as a commentary on the possible end or affirmation of the continuation of theatre in a new path. I wish to develop, in theory, a new praxis of what theatre is and could be alongside new perspectives on the constituent elements of theatre itself.

The classical questions of theatre I shall investigate in my series: What were the plays? Who wrote them? To what end in discourse were they shown? Who saw them? How can one analyse theatre? And ultimately is theatre relevant or not today?

Ranciere as a writer throughout his corpus of texts places himself between a critique of the establishment view of theatre and simultaneously offers insightful critiques of the poststructuralist left who seek to continuously batter down the gates of common sense in the recognition, and thus understanding, of what theatre as spectacle constitutes as such. He then proceeds to outline the genealogy of how theatre has been discussed in relative terms known as ‘spectacle’ and ‘spectator’ operating on a basic dualism or binary relation. As readers what we will witness through Ranciere’s deftness of tone and thus argumentation, is that both are in fact a dialectical relation in which actors are not in fact a one-dimensional object of gaze for the audience, that in both respects, both audience and actresses are reciprocal of each other. A mirror for the other, reflecting their own gaze.

Asylum_project-Gaze_of_the_mother by Shock2006, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Shock2006 


Regardless of any empirical historical reading along materialist lines of what theatres and plays represented either to the ruling classes or those who were permitted to view the spectacles, it is interesting to note how much theatre is not so much confined to the very act of the stage, and the respective gaze that sits dormant from a distance in a relevant discourse. When we relate the Greek Polis or Beckett’s self-conscious plays outside the confines of the theatre house, and apply Debord’s theory of the spectacle and aspects of performativity, one can easily perceive that acting of false illusion is prevalent in all aspects of human society and knowledge.

It is useful to note when reading ancient playwrights such as Sophocles or Aeschylus, the apparent ‘structure’ of the text, from the dramatis personae and their respective ‘spoken’ parts, to the omniscient, intermediary role of the strophe, anti-strophe and chorus played. It is essential to not only gain insight into the content of the play itself, but also, how much the content of the play was self-conscious of its form, guiding the Greek audience along the moral treachery of siding with Oedipus or not in his tragedy. Moving to modern plays, when reading Beckett or Brecht where the lines of the actors and actresses in an appearance of naturalism tear down the fourth wall, destroying the long-held Platonic, mimetic nature of art and breach open into the plateau of reality itself. Such when they talk to the audience themselves, or comment on the absurdity of their own lines or the action within the play.

This is where theatre not only is interesting according to the theory I will develop in this series, but where theatre crosses into and intersects with cinema. The first shots of Le Mepris (1963) by Jean-Luc Godard reveal in a modernist, contra-Aristotelian sense, the gears of the play that operate it, and thus cause a rupture of ‘thinking’ again, being in a Heideggerian aspect. These first shots show a woman walking, then from the prior angle, reveal the camera that made the first shot, showing the relativity of perspective, and exposing the art form.

For me, theatre in one respect can only embrace new lungs of life by escaping the one-dimensional, actor to audience spectacle through spontaneity, play and open rhizomatic explorations of all self-conscious apparatus. There should not be theatre, but theatres in all walks of life. Such things as the absence of a written script or play, directors, actors and actresses, the space and time of a particular theatre to house the ‘event’ of theatre itself, and in combination with the new philosophy, cinema, explore the broadening limits and horizons of the Deleuzian ‘flow’ of time and movement image as a theatrical trope and tendency. Theatre should perform to be and to see, the act of writing the gaze, to gaze upon the script of being in all beings of the world.


Jack Robert Coopey