expectation


> verwachting


expectation > verwachting [English/Dutch]


From Latin exspectatio: anticipation, awaiting, desire, curiosity. In theatre we are waiting, hoping for something positive, new or meaningful, knowing that this ‘something’ is going to occur somehow.


It also means 'to defer action'. Once we’re seated, we are not planning on taking an active role. On the contrary, we want to be left in peace (exceptions left aside). Spectare is looking at, not acting or talking. The speculator is the one who speculates, but also observes, contemplates appearances, qualities (species).


But of course, we are not waiting passively for something known. It is the deviation of our 'horizon of expectations' as Hans-Robert Jauss stated, that makes our theatre experience worthwile. The 'artistic character' of a work is determined by the audience’s reaction and this corresponds to the aesthetic distance between a given horizon of expectations and the appearance of a new work.[1]


Expectation comprises the word spectacle: 'a visually striking performance or display', 'loud' or 'obtrusive'. Spectacle referred in past centuries to 'a performance,' 'a stupid person,' 'racket, noise,' and finally, 'a noisy performance'. It did not necessarily refer to a grand piece of art. We tend to speak condenscendingly about 'spectacle.'[2] It reminds us of pageants, circus acts, and popular entertainment. It is not something we want to see in theater. Or do we? Postdramatic theatre mixes 'low' and 'high art,' but as Hans-Theis Lehmann indicates, it does so with the intention to deconstruct and to distance itself from theater as the formation of illusion.[3]


Defining an artwork or the aesthetic criteria of an artwork is not only about what we see, but also about how what we see relates to what we expect. How spectacular should the artwork be?


Author and translator: Joke Holwerda



[1]  Hans Robert Jauss (1982), Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, Menneapolis: U of Mennesota.

[2]  Van Dale Woordenboek Engels Nederlands.

[3]  Lehmann, Hans-Thies (2010), Postdramatic Theatre, Londen and New York: Routledge.