Performing Opposition

Modern Theater and the Scandalized Audience

by Neil Blackadder


Examines the protests of scandalized audience members against the first plays by such writers as Jarry, Synge, and Brecht, illuminating a multifaceted and largely overlooked aspect of modern theater history.

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November 2003


Pages 248
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Popular Culture/Music and Performing Arts

Modern theater history is punctuated by instances of scandalized audience members disrupting and in some cases suspending the first production of a new play. Such incidents are usually dismissed as riots, as self-evident displays of philistinism. Neil Blackadder's intriguing new study reveals them in fact to be multifaceted conflicts, showing the ways in which these protesters-acting against plays by such notables as Jarry, Synge, and Brecht-creatively devised and enacted resistance through verbal rejoinders, physical gestures, and organized group demonstrations.

Performing Opposition draws on reviews, memoirs, interviews, and court records to present engaging and insightful accounts of these clashes—clashes that Blackadder proposes as a unique and distinct category of event in a time when unprecedentedly restrained norms of auditorium behavior coincided with a regeneration of writing for the stage. Offering the first detailed examination of affronted theatergoers' counter-performances, the volume represents an intriguing illumination of a largely overlooked aspect of performed drama and its history.

Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsPrefaceIntroduction: Modern Theater Scandals and the Evolution of the Theatrical Event"Are We in a Brothel Here, or a Theater?": Resisting Naturalism - Hauptmann's Before Sunrise"Down with Lugné Chamber Pot!": Resisting Naturalism - Jarry's Ubu Roi"This Is Not Irish Life!": Defending National Identy - Synge's The Playboy of the Western World"A Slander on the Citizen Army!": Vindicating Fallen Heroes - O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars"Pfui!": Disdaining Experimentation - Brecht during the Weimar Republic: In the Jungle, Baal, Lehrstück, Mahagonny, and A Man's a ManAfterwordNotesSelected BibliographyIndex



Blackadder does an excellent job of describing and analyzing several important theater scandals that took place in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rather than dwelling on play plots and characters, critical analysis of plays, or the playwrights and their intentions (he assumes familiarity with the plays and the events discussed), the author describes and analyzes actual audience behavior and the possible reasons for such behavior. By concentrating on the audience reaction and its performance, instead of the theater and its practitioners, he increases understanding of the productions as theatrical events....Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.—Choice

In his fascinating and well-researched book, ^IPerforming Opposition: Modern Theater and the Scandalized Audience^R, Neil Blackadder draws on a variety of methodological approaches (theories of spectatorship, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, new historicism, etc.) to analyze in detail some of the most notorious theater scandals that occurred between the 1880s and the 1930s in France, Ireland, Germany, and the United States. The author's major aim is to demonstrate that the audience protests that accompanied many early performances of plays by Gerhart Hauptmann, Alfred Jarry, J.M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, and Bertolt Brecht constituted acts of resistance against the predominant trend towards more passive forms of spectatorship at the time.—The Brecht Yearbook

In this superb study of theatre scandals, Neil Blackadder looks at examples of the interaction between stage and spectators between the 1880s and the 1930s arguing that the 'unprecented, short-lived, and probably unrepeatable circumstances' of this era encouraged 'works which directly challenged their audiences, and spectators who defied predominant norms of behavior in order to express their opinion'....Scrupulously researched, persuasively argued and clearly written, Blackadder's study of audience behavior says a lot both about the theatre culture in an era of rapid social change and about exactly what words or actions stimulated audiences to perform a live public protest during a performance, as opposed to protesting after the event. Students and academics will find this account immensely useful and stimulating.—NTQ Book Reviews

[B]lackadder provides us with a thorough reading of the events themselves, based on extensive use of firsthand accounts, reviews, court decisions, and more, as well as with a useful contextualization of the protests within the increasingly detailed-and important-history of theatre audiences.—Theatre Survey

[A] major new contribution....a marvellous book....this book recommends itself as a powerful new addition to the small corpus of books which seek to recover a history of audiences, and audiencing....enjoy, and learn from, this truly excellent book.—Participation


In ^IPerforming Opposition^R, through a sequence of case studies from Hauptmann's ^IBefore Sunrise^R in 1889 up to Brecht's ^IA Man's a Man^R in 1931, Neil Blackadder....shows the role of the spectator to be no less self-consciously performative than that of the actor onstage. In his scrupulous examination of a wealth of first-hand evidence his treatment is as engaged as it is even-handed. Consistently specific and empirical in his approach, he gives our understanding of audience behavior a focus that reception theorists seldom offer.—Edward Braun^LEmeritus Professor of Drama, University of Bristol

This fresh and intriguing study makes a significant contribution both to theatre history and to modernist studies. Blackadder provides fresh insight into some of the most riotous performances that heralded the rise of modern theatre. But even more importantly, he demonstrates how spectators may perform as active participants in the theatre event, as players whose role may be to energetically resist the performance onstage or to energetically support it. Blackadder exposes the now familiar and comfortable role of passive observer as only one, historically conditioned, role an audience may play.—John Rouse^LAssociate Professor, University of California, San Diego

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