Susan Bennett, in her book entitled “Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception”, proposes that audience responses are shaped by two overlapping ‘frames’, an inner frame and an outer frame. Bennett suggests that the inner frame is made up of on-stage semiosis through the work of visual and auditory signifiers (e.g. an actor crying during a tense moment). The outer frame encapsulates more broadly defined external factors, such as the personal history of an audience member, or the way in which the show was marketed.
Using Bennett’s model, in an analysis of Eurydice (dir. Matt White) at the University of Waterloo in 2016, we found that factors situated within the outer frame directly worked against those of the inner frame. The theatrical event was framed by the creators to be a feminist work, but the text, staging, and use of video projection throughout the production told a different narrative. In this way, the inner and outer frames worked against each other to create a fragmented identity for the play.
Although Bennett provides us with an entry point into factors that may shape or alter audience responses, she does not provide us with approaches for gathering responses, or go so far as dissecting why audience members come to specific conclusions. In our research, we aim to unpack the context that provokes audiences to make interpretive decisions.
-Erik Van Dijk