Every theatergoer may consider the question: What is it about performance that draws people to sit and listen attentively in a theater, watching other people labor on stage and hoping to be moved and provoked, challenged and comforted? In Utopia in Performance, Jill Dolan “argues that live performance provides a place where people come together, embodied and passionate, to share experiences of meaning making and imagination that can describe or capture fleeting intimations of a better world (p.2)”. She traces the sense of visceral, emotional, and social connection that we experience at such times, connections that allow audience members to sense a better world, and the hopeful utopic sentiment might become motivation for civic engagement and social change.
One of the main contributions of this book, I believe, is Dolan’s insightful aspect of spectatorship. The spectatorship is a relatively ignored topic by scholarship of theater or performance studies, but Dolan attempts to articulate the relationship of theater and spectators. She suggests that theater offer a social connection that both performers and spectators experience at such times. The connection allows people to not simply narrate or see a better world but to feel it. The shared moment of theatrical reception, which provides a forum for being human together; for feeling love, hope, and commonality in particular and historical ways, dissolves the audience’s common bond. This moment, when it works, becomes what Dolan named “utopian performatives.” Dolan defines that Utopian performatives describe “small but profound moments in which performance calls the attention of the audience in a way that lifts everyone slightly above the present, into a hopeful feeling of wha...
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...ironment unrealistic theaters create? How unrealistic theaters resonate the local community? Moreover, though Dolan does not discuss cinema, but most of the notion on utopian performatives she discusses about live performances can apply correspondingly to cinema, especially for opera films, which combine two mediums opera and film together. How would Asian opera films that harmonize unrealistic performance and realistic settings create a “better world” in which audience members can project their ideals?
In Utopia in Performance, Dolan demonstrates a mode of thinking and seeing, and a way to make theater a human practice that can motivate spectators desire for social justice. It is a heartening book that inspires readers to rethink the meaning and function of theater. The liveness of performance may bring what Walter Benjamin argued “aura” back, in a “better world.”
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