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presence  > aanwezigheid [English/Dutch]

The audience’s presence can be understood in many ways. One may speak about the essence of presence in theatre or one may talk about presence as a form of proximity.

1. Bentley’s definition of theatre is: ‘A acts as if he is B, while C watches’ (150). C is the audience, and thus an audience has to be present in order to make something theatre. Every time a show is performed, whether a Shakespeare play or a performance lecture, a viewer is present. In our modern times it is questionable whether another presence is necessary. Can one person be performer and spectator simultaneously? And if someone watches a play through modern technology, what is the moment that it becomes a performance?

2. Modern times have also influenced presence in the form of proximity. Normally one would expect an audience to be present during the play, and there is almost no distance between the stage and the audience. In most cases this is what still happens in mainstream theatre. However, now that we live in a global world where the internet is widely accessible, is this close distance during the performance still necessary? Live performances can be watched via a webcam at home. It is no longer necessary to travel to the nearest neighborhood theatre because one can see a performance in China while living in the United States. While it gives the audience many new options, the question is whether it is still worthwhile to discuss spectatorship in terms of presence. Do these technical mediums change the traditional conceptions of presence or should we simply discard the term? 

Time has changed our understanding of presence. Perhaps Bentley’s definition may no longer be as valid as it once was.


Bentley, Eric. The Life of Drama. New York: Applause Theatre Books, 1964.

Author and translator: Margriet van Weperen