Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Jonathan Boulter


The liveness of theatre is a much-debated topic in playwriting, arts policy, and performance studies. Discussions of liveness, by scholars such as Peggy Phelan, Richard Schechner, and Herbert Blau, have historically suggested that performance is an ephemeral medium, defining “liveness” as a descriptor of theatre’s transient existence, a phenomenon which disappears at the same moment it is performed. More recently, scholars such as Philip Auslander, Rebecca Schneider, and Amelia Jones have reconsidered this historical debate, suggesting that performance does not simply occur once and then disappear, but that its temporality must include repetition, reperformance, and memory. However, these approaches continue to theorize liveness in terms of its temporality. This dissertation intervenes in two ways: firstly, I reorient the definition of “liveness” away from temporality and toward affect: “liveness”, from my perspective, is a felt quality of performance, but is not restricted to the moment that performance takes place. Secondly, I analyze the relationship between the ways that affective liveness is invoked in performance and the UK.’s current socio-economic and political environment to suggest that the increasing desire for experiences which feel live is an index of that country’s neoliberal context. Informing my argument are theorists such as Bergson and Derrida, as well as affect theorists such as Massumi, Bennett, and Berlant.

This dissertation addresses several case studies. Chapter one discusses playwright Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life (1997) and The City (2008) as projections of capitalist promises and expectations of a “good life”, following Lauren Berlant. In chapter two, I analyze immersive theatre company Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More as a bodily, but purposefully individualistic, affective experience. The third and final chapter, I discuss ii several multi-form archival projects by performance collective Forced Entertainment, analyzing their attempts to make documentation live. In foregrounding their own liveness, these performances attempt to capitalize on the community feeling produced by collective experience. However, I conclude that liveness has been deployed in these performances in order to encourage a particularly neoliberal form of affective consumption, which privileges individual, entrepreneurial, and capitalistic forms of creation and spectatorship.