Damocles and the Plucked: Audience Participation and Risk in Half Cut

Adam Alston

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This article looks to identify a political mode of audience engagement in the ‘one-on-one’ performance, Half Cut. In response to recent economic turbulence in the UK and abroad, I draw on Hans-Thies Lehmann’s appeal for an ‘aesthetics of risk’ in the theatre: an aesthetics which I suggest might begin at the level of audience reception. This marks a turn away from the more prevalent application of risk to artistic production. Couched in the sociological context of Ulrich Beck’s ‘risk society’, I compare risk-taking in contemporary financial markets with the apparently trivial and seemingly ‘risky’ act of paying to pluck a single hair from another’s body as a participant in Half Cut. I consider how affective responses such as embarrassment and awkwardness in one-on-one theatre (which might be felt as ‘risks’) function either as something masochistically consumed within the experience industry, or as positive values subversively premised on loss – such as loss of dignity and self-assuredness – provided that risk is not something passively submitted to, but actively committed to. The argument centres on an economically defined power dynamic operating between performer and participant, paying close attention to how the successful operation of this dynamic within the aesthetic space of Half Cut might lift an otherwise fetishised relationship into something felt through affectation. I suggest that a triadic relationship between risk, agency and responsibility – which is perhaps broken in financial markets – is forged through a ‘dialogic intimacy’ between performer and participant, opening space for a radical engagement with risk beginning at the level of an existential queasiness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-354
JournalContemporary Theatre Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


  • Risk
  • Audience Participation
  • One-on-One Theatre
  • Half Cut
  • Aesthetics of Risk
  • Immersive Theatre

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