So, mr Jacques Rancière… Mr Jacques Rancière is not fond of paradoxes. He says: guys, girls we should not be so hard on ourselves if that is not strictly necessary.

There is one paradox he dislikes in particular. This is when theatre makers tear their hairs out, over the supposed inequality of the performer and the spectator.

His reasoning: if such an inequality exists, and it is the theatre makers that have to close it, that is still inequal. They are still in the position of power they did not want to have in the first place.

Rancière urges those of us who think about the theatre to break out of this loop and reexamine the underlying assumptions.

Now, he says, might just be the time to reexamine what the theatre actually is. Go to the theatre, see the theatre, experience the theatre, and then ask yourself: these inequalities we so easily pose, these dichotomies between the passive spectator and the active performer, between seeing and doing, between seeing and knowing, between spectating and performing… Don’t these dichotomies exist mainly in our head?

Couldn’t it just be that being the spectator in the piece is a hell of a job in itself? Couldn’t it just be that seeing is an active process which is making the piece to exactly the same extent that performing the piece is making the piece?

Couldn’t we say—yes, we can say: In the theatre you and I know (and love), any spectator takes just as spectacular a part in the creation of what is the theatre, as the performer does.

Now I will actually have to come with some convincing analogies. Because I really want to feel I am speaking right.

Maybe something along the lines of a contract. That would be very nice. Like Rousseau’s social contract. Like: why do we have a government, why do we actually allow other people to tell us what is wrong or right? Well, Rousseau thinks that we do that because we figured it was a smart idea. It’s a sort of mutual understanding, that by empowering the government, the government will empower us. The government understands that the only way it can possibly tell the people what is wrong or right, is when it does what the people want it to do.

It’s a bit like that with the theatre. We make this little deal that for tonight you are the spectator and I am the performer, because it works out for the both of us.

As a spectator you empower the performer so the performer can empower you.

And tomorrow the tables could have turned. I could be sitting there, you could be standing here and we’d still have ball.

You see we’re in this together.

In fact, we’re always in this together. But the theatre is the place that manages to make that apparent.

So how does the deal work. What do we surrender to the performer? We surrender our attention. It is all about attention.

You see, we performers do nothing much different from what we do when we step outside these walls and when we go about our business. In day to day live I am a talkative guy too. The only reason I have been talking for so long now already is: now you let me finish my sentences.

You let me talk, because we made it obvious that I am the performer, I mean, in Dutch: ik heb de broek aan, I am wearing the pants.

So it’s just like daily life, except, you have surrendered over your freedom to what you are going to pay attention to—you are paying attention to me, now—and that apparent limitation brings us to the luxury of the theatre.

The luxury of the stage is that we can see the the variables.

And by that I mean: you can actually count: Oh, in this piece there are five performers. There are five people generating meaning. If you would have to look at your daily live and say how many people are generating meaning you couldn’t tell. The amount has to be finite, there can only so many people you can afford a meaningful place in your life. But the tricky part is, that we keep figuring out, who these people are…

Now in the theatre we manage to make that quite concise. We say: of all the people in the world, tonight, you you you you you and you will be constructing meaning.

And this can allow us the chance for a moment of clarity. Clarity, which we… as we all know… tends to… lack a bit, from day to day.

We have a clarity: we have one space, a discrete amount of actors, in every sense of the word: because we have also fixed the amount of props, the amount of spectators, the amount of technicians. And still, this is the trick, still we get to look at a world which is every bit as exciting as our own unlimited world.

We make a little world within the world. If anything, this is what we do. A little ecosystem, a place. If we get the ingredients right, we have a world that can function. There is this clichéed question: what would you do if you knew that you had only one day to live. Now that’s a very silly question. But in the theatre actually every day we ask that question quite the other way around: what day, what world, what setting could you actually imagine to go on forever?

That’s what we do. We try and create this little world with a limited amount of actors—you know there is six billion people on the world but we can maybe have five six seven eight nine twelve actors on stage—and still we manage to create a world in which at times one could say I want this to go on forever.

Why is it then, that with only five or six people in a controlled environment, we can still get a world that is exciting? Couldn’t we just calculate everything thats going to happen?

We can’t. A physicist can’t even calculate the trajectories of different bodies in a gravitational field if there are more than two (this is known as the three body problem). If we set the stage right, we have inherent inpredictability. An inherently endless amount of possibility.

It is, actually the other way around: Not all the world’s a stage, but a stage is all the world.

I speak for two more minutes. There is actually one amazing aspect of the theatre. And that has to do with what we like to call the subjective. There are some misunderstandings about the subjective. (You could say what is the subjective—well, it’s the personal, it’s the thing that makes the subject and the subject is me.)

In the theatre, me is not enough. I have to somehow place this me somewhere where it’s together with the other performers, in the first place, and the audience in the second.

What is nice is that this is actually not very hard. I can extract from myself these images and these sentences which I feel are constituting me, and I can place them in the space inbetween you and me. And now what I previously considered to be me is something that now belongs to us all.

In fact that this is so easy, that these very sentences that constitute me just allow themselves to put in the space between you and me, that ease shows me they were never really mine in the first place. Whatever I can put out, had to be put in at some point; for every bit of performing I do I did a whole lot of spectating.

Now, that’s very important, I think, and I hope that I will have the chance to eleborate on that some other time because my two minutes are now over.

Yeah, so, I guess that’s what I say, I say you is bigger than I. And that’s a very good thing. Now if you would all, if you have bought a ticket, would like to join me to the show which is taking place in 1, which is a… Well oh I am contractually obliged to not say anything about it so I won’t. But I would be more than delighted if you would take this opportunity to come and spectate along with me. Thanks.

Monologue by Eric Schrijver as part of the performance ‘Spectatorship’ by Bruno Listopad.

You can find a PDF of Jacques Rancière’s the Emancipated Spectator over at Light in the Fridge.

The parallel with the three body problem comes from Navigating Movements, an interview with Brian Massumi.