Fifty years ago, Dionysus in 69, an adaptation of The Bacchae by Richard Schechner and The Performance Group, introduced the theatre world to something Schechner called “environmental theatre.” That term has been all but forgotten, replaced almost indiscriminately by “site-specific” and “immersive.” But are these more recent descriptors accurate, and has anything new really emerged? This talk examines the use of performance space and the agency of the spectator within these spaces then and now, and suggests that immersive theatre may be an instance of “old wine in new bottles.”
Arnold Aronson is a professor of theatre at Columbia University in New York City. He writes on scenography and contemporary theatre. Books include The Routledge Compan- ion to Scenography (editor); Ming Cho Lee: A Life in Design; Looking into the Abyss: Essays on Scenography; and American Avant-Garde Theatre: A History. He is a former editor of Theatre Design & Technology, and currently co-editor of Theatre and Performance Design. He has a long history with the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Space and Design, serving as President of the Jury in 1991 and 1999, curator of the U.S. exhibit in 1995, and General Commissioner in 2007.