Training the gaze: reciprocal looking in storytelling performance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


In many forms of popular performance, there is a distinctive, if not unique, relationship set up between performer and spectator insofar as the performer addresses herself directly to the spectator. In storytelling performances as diverse as autobiographical performance, storytelling and stand-up comedy, performer and spectator enter into relationships, predicated on a complex exchange of looking. Some practitioners maintain that the reciprocity of this exchange underpins a fundamentally ‘authentic’ relationship (Martin 1996). Storytellers are expected not only to acknowledge directly the audience, but to engage with and respond to this co-presence, modulating the performance according to how they see the spectators responding. However, such reciprocity is often a challenge for novice performers. One challenge is reported as being exposed or naked, without the mask of character or role as protection. Being seen is one dimension of this looking relationship. Novice performers can address this challenge, both through training in the ways in which they might present themselves and being conditioned through repetition to the fears of being looked at. A second dimension is the capacity to read the response of an audience and to modulate one’s performance accordingly. Training here may be a matter of engaging with a process of experiential learning through exposure to different audience events so that, through such praxis, the storyteller’s capacity is developed. This tests the limits of classroom-based training and raises questions about the show-casing of new performers within public events.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherTheatre and Performance Research Association
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2013
EventTaPRA Annual Conference - Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Duration: 1 Sept 2013 → …


ConferenceTaPRA Annual Conference
Period1/09/13 → …

Bibliographical note

This paper was presented at full conference panel, convened under the auspices of the Popular Performances Working Group.
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  • theatre training
  • contemporary performance
  • reciprocity
  • the gaze


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