The audience is never simply a passive spectator. Upon entering the theatre space they are immediately engaged in meaning-making processes that draw from personal contexts, dominant ideologies, and the systems of signs offered both on and off stage. The audience’s role, thus, is as much an act of decoding as it is an act of spectatorship. In reading the semiotics of a specific theatre performance, audiences are invited to participate in various modes of engagement. They may be prompted to absorb new information, confirm or change an opinion, or formulate their own interpretation of the presented stage-signs.
Previous productions at the University of Waterloo have revealed many factors that affect the audience’s decoding process. The 2016 production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice demonstrated how interventions designed to frame interpretation can complicate the reading of these signs. In the case of Eurydice, the presented signs were incongruous with the information shared in talkback sessions, resulting in varying interpretations of the performance. In this example, the meaning that the production sought to impart did not translate directly to the audience.
As a case study, Unconscious Curriculum: Rape Culture on Campus provides us with the opportunity to examine an audience’s investment in a controversial topic, and determine the elements that affect their processes of meaning-making. What we hope to achieve with this research is an understanding of the factors that influence not just the audience’s engagement with the performance, but also the modes of engagement in which they choose to participate.