Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, agency and responsibility in immersive theatre

Alston, Adam. 2013. Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, agency and responsibility in immersive theatre. Performance Research, 18(2), pp. 128-138. ISSN 1352-8165 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article identifies a value set shared between the neoliberal ethos and modes of audience participation frequently promoted in immersive theatre: values such as risk-taking, individual freedoms and personal responsibility. The promotion of self-made opportunity, premised either on opportunistic risk-taking, or the savvy attitude that comes with experience and familiarity with immersive theatre participation, will be addressed as valorising another shared value: entrepreneurialism. A participatory mode will be introduced that I call ‘entrepreneurial participation’: a kind of audience participation privileged in much immersive theatre performance identifying the enactment of neoliberal value. While entrepreneurial participation may be deliberately deployed by audiences as a participatory tactic, it will be argued that this particular participatory mode is frequently expected of audiences, or at least privileged as a means of engaging with performance. Work by the British immersive theatre company Punchdrunk will be taken as a means of illustrating this suggestion, particularly The Masque of the Red Death (2007).

The article begins with a definition of immersive theatre that focuses on the figuring of participating audiences, paying particular attention to the relativity of participatory freedoms and the centrality of experience production. Hedonistic and narcissistic experiences will pull focus and will be approached as a possible reason behind immersive theatre's susceptibility to absorption within the experience industry and co-optation by innovative marketers. The article then establishes a set of shared values between the neoliberal ethos and audience participation in The Masque of the Red Death. Risk perception research, especially that arising from the Oregon Group and Stephen Lyng, will be touched on as a means of introducing some political considerations arising from the notion of entrepreneurial participation. A more optimistic, but ultimately sobering set of responses will be offered in conclusion.

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Performance Research on 14 June 2013, available online:


immersive theatre; entrepreneurial participation; narcissism; narcissistic participation; neoliberalism; neoliberal value; Punchdrunk

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


14 June 2013Published Online

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Date Deposited:

24 Jan 2020 10:11

Last Modified:

09 Jun 2021 12:42

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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