Cui Bono? A Critique of the Conscripted Audience and, Perforce, a Manifesto

Presentation with Craig Fleming (USA) 
Assistant Professor, Theatre Studies, California State University Long Beach

Craig Fleming received his MFA in Acting and Directing from California State University Long Beach, which named him Outstanding Graduate for the College of the Arts. At South Coast Repertory he taught acting while serving as their Education Director. Currently he teaches theatre studies at CSULB and is the Academic Affiliate for the Center Theatre Group. Before entering academia Craig was recruited by Walt Disney Imagineering and relocated to France to produce nomenclature and scripting for the creation of Disneyland Paris. After the birth of his first child, however, he chose to abandon theme parks and search for something real. 


In academic theatre departments across the United States, alienation of student audiences by inconsequential form and content is a practice that is irresponsibly ignored. Despite pre-performance orientations, attempts to motivate theatre audiences from the general student population often are not only ineffectual, but also counterproductive. To be precise, conscripted students who pay for and attend theatrical events that fail to engage them come to find that their prejudices against theatre are substantiated, obviating any future attendance. This essay argues that, since theatre cannot exist separate from its audience, the willing participation of its audience has to be engineered, otherwise there is little chance for theatrical vitality or continuity. To effect such willingness, academic theatre must be an investigation and advancement of relevant forms. Theatre educators must attend carefully, even erotically, to their audiences, otherwise theatre shall not survive the paradigmatic shifts of twenty-first century culture. Rather than prepare students for theatre, we should solicit their hopes, fears, and burning questions so that we might better prepare for them. In Ancient Greece the word for playwright, didaskolos, roughly corresponded to teacher or scholar. Those teacher-playwrights addressed the scintillating political and philosophical issues of their day while aggressively competing to win the hearts and minds of their audience. They sought simultaneously to reform the world and to seduce it. The time has come for academic theatre to devote itself to the study and creation of new audiences, for when the audience vanishes, so too the art.

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