Surveillance cameras watch the audience, as performers hurl insults in 'Offending the Audience'
From The Oregonian on November 02, 2015 at 7:30 AM
By Jamie Hale
As a member of an audience, you have some expectations: You expect to be comfortable, you expect to be entertained and you expect the attention to be onstage.
You don't expect to have video cameras trained on you the entire time, projecting your face onto a screen at the back of the stage as the performers personally berate you, doing everything in their power to offend.
But that's the expectation you'll need to have walking into "Offending the Audience," a classic "anti-play" being staged by Portland theater group Liminal this fall.
"We will not be satisfying your dramatic expectations," director John Berendzen promised.
There will be no characters, no plot and no fourth wall. It will be a work of anti-theater that doesn't even bother masquerading as a typical experience.
The performance was originally written in 1966 by Austrian writer Peter Handke, who titled the subversive work "Publikumsbeschimpfung," a show intended to liberate theater from all structure by making the audience not a group of passive observers, but rather the star of the night.
"The thing behind it is to turn the tables to make the audience the focus," Berendzen said. "This one doesn't let you off the hook, it keeps you completely reminded of your physical body, your physical space."
It sounds very self-serving for those involved, for the people who have a vested interest in the structural elements of theater production, but what does the audience get out of it – other than being "offended" in some way?
In a 1970 interview, Handke said he wanted the audience to "always look upon my play as a means of testing other plays" – in other words, to be more discerning theater-goers. "What mattered to me was making them feel like going to the theater more, making them see all plays more consciously and with a different consciousness."
The folks at Liminal hope their modern audiences will be offended – or at least creeped out by all the video cameras – enough to begin to appreciate more experimental theater. Because while there are a lot of very good traditional shows right now in Portland, there are also performers like Keyon Gaskin and shows like "All Well" that are actively defying the norms.
"Now, defying your expectations is part of your expectations," Berendzen admitted. "We have to take it to the next level and really get people out of that complacency."
Whether or not you're actually offended, "Offending the Audience" will be an interesting night of anti-theater. Just don't expect to spend it behind the fourth wall – Liminal won't be laying a single brick of that protective barrier.
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"OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE"
When: Nov. 6 to 22
Where: Action/Adventure Theatre
Tickets: $10 to $25 sliding scale, $8 students/artists/industry