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Approaches to “Audience-Centered” Performance: Designing Interaction for the iGeneration

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Contemporary media users—specifically iGen students, born in the 1990s through 2010 —see and operate with(in) the world in a fundamentally different manner than those that came only a decade before. In twenty-first-century techno-culture, the pervasive influence of the Internet accessed through the medium of smart devices makes constant multitasking and direct interaction necessary for effective learning in iGen students. These students have adapted their way of seeing and interacting to a media-saturated environment where they are connected to multiple times, places, and things simultaneously. Teachers of contemporary theatre practice should understand this change as an epistemological shift, which also impacts what iGen students expect from theatre. This chapter argues for a new direction towards thinking through digital paradigms to reassemble what theatre is and what it will be for today’s and tomorrow’s students. The constant interactive nature of these students’ digital lives requires that educators understand new ways of teaching theatre creation when considering audiences of the future.

A starting point for developing pedagogical tools that engage students in the process of interactive theatre-making is to examine existing frameworks and methodologies for implementing interaction developed in technology and games studies. Fundamentals of interaction design from these fields are crucial to understand when teaching interactive theatre for digital natives. In interactive theatre, the audience becomes the center of the performance as participant, observer, and author, thereby changing the focus of theatrical storytelling and performance from making something seen into something experienced.

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  1. 1.

    I use the terms contemporary and today throughout this essay to refer to the immediate past, the present, and the very-near future; to be more precise the early twenty-first century. With rapid progress of digital paradigms and technologies, I argue it is necessary to think both historically and progressively about how what has just come to pass influences what is soon to come.

  2. 2.

    While the iGen is the primary concern of this essay, three generational cohorts are considered: Generation X, the Net Gen (also known as Millennials and Generation Y) and the iGen. These cohorts date ranges fall roughly between 1961–1980, 1981–1995, and 1995–2010 respectively. Depending on the survey and purpose of classification, the crossover between cohorts typically has a three- to five-year overlap. I use the terms “late” or “early” to designate those near the end or beginning of a cohort.

  3. 3.

    Blast Theory is a performance company based in Brighton, UK, who make collaborative and interactive artworks, theatre, games , and digital narratives. For over 25 years the company has been collectively led by Matt Adams , Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj. Their work explores the social and political implications of contemporary technology using popular culture and games to blur the division between fiction and reality (Blast Theory 2017).

  4. 4.

    Post-digital refers to a paradigm/era after the digital/analogue divide no longer is tenable. In the post-digital, societies become subsumed by computational technologies erasing the possibility of a sustainable analogue paradigm.

  5. 5.

    The remaining five are more applicable when specifically using digital media as a performative tool (Spence 2016, 194).

  6. 6.

    Brecht’s alienation, which is directed towards the audience, causes moments of critical reflection purposefully pulling the spectator out of the narrative while Boal’s participatory tools bring the audience into the narrative to achieve real-world agency. Both forms attempt to encourage the spectator to engage in direct political action.


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Correspondence to William W. Lewis .

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Lewis, W.W. (2018). Approaches to “Audience-Centered” Performance: Designing Interaction for the iGeneration. In: Fliotsos, A., Medford, G. (eds) New Directions in Teaching Theatre Arts. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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