Productive Participants: Aesthetics and Politics in Immersive Theatre

Adam Alston

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis looks at an aesthetics and politics of audience participation in immersive theatre. It asks what it means to be affected by immersive theatre as an audience member and what it means to perceive risk as a participating audience. Moreover, it considers how affect production and risk perception among participating audiences might be approached as aesthetic characteristics that are, at the same time, profoundly political. Inspired by, but departing from, the writing of political philosopher Jacques Rancière, the argument considers whether a politics of audience participation in immersive theatre might be derived from an aesthetic core, a core that emerges from affect production and risk perception and that fundamentally impacts on how participation takes place and how participants are to take their place.

Immersive theatre is initially identified as a theatre style that surrounds participating audiences in a coherent aesthetic world. I ask, on the one hand, what might constitute a productive participant and how such a productive participant might contribute to the coherence of an aesthetic world. On the other hand, I ask how these productive participants might also be implicated in its rupture. Drawing especially on the broad disciplinary spectrum of affect studies and risk perception research, new terminology is introduced to frame productive participation based on narcissism and entrepreneurialism. Significantly, points of aesthetic and political alignment are charted between immersive theatre, the value system heralded under neoliberalism and the profitable production of experiences within a growing ‘experience economy’. Through analyses of work by Ray Lee, Lundahl & Seitl, Punchdrunk, Shunt, Theatre Delicatessen and Half Cut, this thesis suggests that immersive theatre’s most valuable political work might be derived from an aesthetics of audience participation that frustrates such points of alignment, unearthing into an affective zone the political consequences and compromises of productive participation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Nield, Sophie, Supervisor
  • Rebellato, Dan, Advisor
Award date1 Dec 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • immersive theatre
  • productive participants
  • audience participation
  • politics of participation
  • aesthetics of participation
  • narcissistic participation
  • entrepreneurial participation
  • theatre and neoliberalism
  • theatre and the experience economy
  • Punchdrunk
  • Shunt
  • Ray Lee
  • Lundahl and Seitl
  • Theatre Delicatessen
  • theatre and affect
  • theatre and risk
  • theatre and value

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