Contemporary Ambulatory Theatre and Audience Agency


Contemporary Ambulatory Theatre and Audience Agency explores recent productions that encourage individual audience members to move through large, public spaces in new ways, developing a sense of ambulatory agency as they explore their theatrical environments. It focuses on four objects of study: Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, a version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth wrapped in the aesthetic of Alfred Hitchcock films and staged for mask-wearing audiences inside three New York warehouse spaces; Blast Theory’s A Machine To See With, which guides audiences through a neighborhood on a supposed bank heist using their mobile phones and has been restaged in nine different cities; Street Corner Society’s Subway Orpheus, a loose adaptation of Ovid’s mythic story in which audience members travel between stations on Boston’s MBTA system; and David Levine’s Private Moment, a series of eight scenes from films shot in Central Park performed by live actors on continuous loops in the exact locations where they were filmed.

Contemporary Ambulatory Theatre and Audience Agency uses performance theory, the author’s own experiences of the works, and interviews and statements by practitioners and audience members to determine why artists and audiences are so attracted to new forms of ambulatory agency and how these pieces and others produce them. It argues that, recently, performances like Private Moment have inverted prior understandings of audience agency, treating the individual audience member as the protagonist of their own theatrical event and utilizing performers and other inhabitants of public space to help them exercise this newfound agency.