> toeschouwer

spectator > toeschouwer [English/Dutch]

toeschouwer [‘tusxαuwər] (noun); spectator

In his article The Emancipated Spectator, philosopher Jacques Rancière claims: “there is no theatre without spectators, be it only a single and hidden one” (271). In Dramaturgy of the Spectator, theatre scholar and professor Marco De Marinis states that a performance text only achieves its fullness through specific actions/operations of the audience members (101). From these statements, we can deduce that the most important requirement for theatre to take place is the presence of the spectator. A performance without an audience is at best a rehearsal. But how can we define the role of the spectator?


I suggest that we approach the spectator in a more descriptive way, rather than formulate a restrictive definition. Definitions risk excluding (theatrical) features and are often applicable only in a limited sense. Personally, I look at the spectator as the person to whom something is shown, to whom the performance is directed. This could be anyone: child or adult, male or female, etc.


In The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Studies, theatre scholar Christopher B. Balme talks about the spectator as an individual and an actual recipient (36). In fact, the spectator is not only a viewer of a spectacle, but rather a participant in the performance because without him, there would be no theatre. This shows that the spectator always fulfils an active role, even though the spectator is physically passive. But theatre depends on the mental presence of spectators too. Every member of the audience brings his own ‘horizon of expectations’ to the performance just before he takes on the ‘theatrical frame’ which he socially acquired; this frame relates to a specific set of behaviours with associated conventions (37).

Spectators could be seen as co-producers of the event. This is how art, or theatre, in practice works. It makes every performance, as a live event, a transient happening, if only for the diversity of the performance’s spectators.




Balme, Christopher B. The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Studies. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2008.

De Marinis, Marco. ‘’Dramaturgy of the Spectator.’’ The Drama Review 31 (1987):


Rancière, Jacques. ‘’The Emancipated Spectator.’’ Artforum mar. 2007: 271-280.



Author and translator: Bibi Hinrichs