Katie Hawthorne | 6 March 2017
It turns out that finding a precise definition for theatre is deceptively tricky. For some theorists, theatre depends upon the live presence of an audience to witness an event. For others, it’s the live presence of a performer to tell a story. Some researchers and theatre makers hold that it’s the one-off, physical, fleeting nature of a performance which sets it apart from other art forms. For example, in 1993, performance scholar Peggy Phelan argued: Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented […]: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance” (146).
Each of these definitions relies upon an idea of liveness – the idea of a live audience and a live performer, sharing physical space and time. Cultural theorists like Phillip Auslander have grappled with what it means to be live – don’t worry, this won’t get morbid – and in 1999, he argued that we have only understood live art since we’ve had a mediated alternative, the not live, and explained that “the defining fact of the recorded is the absence of the live.” (2)