A Theatre with Glass Walls: How can we let the world in?

Convener(s): Alex Swift 

Participants: Many, who came and went so I didn’t get names

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

People read the question and the idea of the glass wall in many different ways, including:

  • As a theatre which asks the audience/participants to look outside(literally and metaphorically), at what is going on in the world outside.
  • As a metaphor for a barrier that prevents communication between performers and audiences. As something that might be in the performer’s head, or the audience member’s head.
  • As a barrier that prevents people from coming in – perhaps because they do not feel that the work is relevant to them, or because theatres can be frightening places if you don’t know how to behave in them.
  • As a metaphor for an arts world that talks only to itself.
  • As a way of opening out the mechanics of a piece – the rehearsal, the technical work, the bits that we normally hide.


Here are some of the things that people said (not quite in the words they said them because I can’t write that fast):

Someone performed in a show in a shoe shop with a glass wall. People would stop and look in, sometimes for the whole show. They never managed to talk to any of the people who watched from the outside, but some of the audience on the inside said it made them feel like VIPs.

Someone rehearsed in a shop window. It was unsettling seeing people look in. Sometimes as artists we are very separate. The rehearsal can be a secret process. It can be helpful to duck back into the real world sometimes.

Would it be possible to rehearse in empty shops? If people saw you rehearsing would it make them more likely to come? We didn’t know how we would feel if we rehearsed like this.

Would an open theatre mean you would lose the feeling of walking into the magical place?

Theatre’s can be frightening places if you don’t know what’s in them.

There are some fringe theatres which have windows that can be opened/ revealed (including the Camden People’s Theatre). It would be interesting to see some work that considers them as interfaces with the world which can be controlled – opened up or shut during performance.

Is there a lack in the theatre that doesn’t let us say what we feel? Alex did a relatively conventional theatre show just after the start of the Iraq war. Outside of the theatre he and the performers wore white armbands and other symbols of their opposition to it. But that message could not be allowed to live with the play, as though in order to enter the theatre we had to forget there was a war going on. Is this a good thing? Is it a necessary thing?

We work in very closed worlds. The arts is like a “self-feeding monster” which sustains itself with its own praise of itself.

Is there a sense in which you are the same as a political person and as an artist, or is there a divide.

What is the world? What is outside? What might we choose to let in?

Can the ethical standards that you hold yourself to outside of the theatre br brought into the way we rehearse and perform?

Being an artist or living a certain lifestyle is already a political statement which has value. The more you accept this the clearer the choices you make become.

Be transparent.

Making a living is important. It means we don’t separate ourselves from one another. There is a need as an artist to keep in touch with something that is foreign to me.

Grotowski lived inside the work so much that it was possible to say “You can’t understand it if you’re not in it.” There is something wrong with this.

Someone wanted to see a nakedness in acting.

Is it helpful to change people’s expectations beforehand? Provide them with a map or a key that allows them in to a performance?

How do we bring people in to the space? Ritual and cleansing.

It changes things to put the audience inbetween two actors talking.

Is there a sense that we as theatre makers are not “real people”?

Perhaps if we start to believe that we aren’t real people we start putting up walls, building glass boxes.

Someone told an anecdote about the inspiration for Tim Crouch’s The Author. He was watching a show in which an audience member died and was carried out. The show carried on as though nothing had happened.

The Roman Tragedies by [a dutch company whose name I can’t remember] at the barbican allowed audience members to go online during the show, to interact with the outside world while the world inside goes on.

I don’t think there were any conclusions, but I might go away and write a show.