The Spectator’s School: An idea from Buenos Aires

As we mentioned in our presentation article, the first Spectator’s School was created in Buenos Aires in 2001 by Pr Jorge Dubatti offering meetings at the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación Floreal Gorini. In the first twelve years of the school’s existence  450 shows have been analyzed and 500 artists from different disciplines and specialties have attended the school. The Escuela de Espectadores de Buenos Aires (EEBA) also participates in various international festivals, and has occasionally held sessions in some of the Argentine capital’s prisons (Devoto and Ezeiza).

The EEBA has two origins: first of all, The Argentine theater scene is very rich (220 theatre halls and more than 4 millions of spectators per year). On the other hand, Jorge Dubatti has determined that in theater, spectators play an essential role in the development and dissemination of critical thought. The spectator does not go to the theater because he has read an interesting review or seen an attractive poster, he goes to the theater because his neighbor or colleague has recommended this or that play. The tradition of orality is such that « word-of-mouth” has become the most powerful critical institution in Buenos Aires. 

Understanding the role of the Spectator…

Jorge Dubatti explains to us that we can consider the theater as an event, an encounter between « artists, technicians and spectators ». The professor writes « The basis of the theatrical event is the ancestral structure of the encounter, the « conviviality », the human phenomenon of the living culture in which is generated a singular area of collective experience and subjectivity »1 . There can be no theater without this permanent exchange between the stage and the audience, but also within the audience, between the spectators themselves who live the same moment. The theatrical moment is nothing but sharing, feelings, emotions, looks, interactions and discussions. Without this, the theater does not exist.

© A session of the Escuela de Espectadores in Buenos Aires, 2019 / Cécile Chantraine Braillon

Jorge Dubatti identifies different typologies of spectators, the main ones are : the real spectator (surprising, unpredictable), the historical spectator, the implicit spectator (Umberto Eco’s model reader2 ), the explicit spectator (who reflects on his or her own feelings), the represented spectator, the abstract spectator, the voluntary spectator (intentional, who is interpellated by the work, at the crossroads of the real spectator and the implicit spectator)3 . The emotions felt and the stimuli from which these emotions derive will therefore be completely different from one spectator to another since his character, his past, his social environment give him a subjectivity which is automatically reflected on his perception and his interpretation of the theatrical event.

The spectator has become more demanding in front of the multitude of entertainments that are offered to him, he has a sharper eye, he is more curious and is in constant search of novelties and « keys of interpretation ».  Jorge Dubatti explains, « Today’s spectator is frankly polytheistic, open and collaborative. But above all, he is aware that to access these keys, it is necessary to study, to read, to know. It is not the same to approach a political show, a text by Calderón de la Barca, dance theater or a puppet show”4. And it is thanks to the initiatives of the spectator that the text is transformed and that one passes from a text of pleasure to a text of enjoyment, Jorge Dubatti quotes besides Roland Barthes (The Pleasure of the Text, p.14) to explain this distinction: « Text of pleasure: the text that contents, fills, grants euphona; the text that comes from culture and does not break with it, is linked to a comfortable practice of reading. Text of bliss: the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of a certain boredom), unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language. »5

 … to give him his place

The Spectator’s School was born from the different elements that we have previously mentioned. Jorge Dubatti explains its functioning as follows: « The members of the School attend a series of shows, previously agreed upon, from different circuits of the Buenos Aires theater (official, independent, commercial, international, coming from the provinces) and then they analyze them with our coordination at the head of the class and with the help of the theatrical creators of the analyzed show. The field of the considered shows is a wide range of poetic theatricality: theater, dance, opera, oral storytelling, circus, street theater, puppets, performing arts… »6. The goal of this school is to give the spectator the necessary tools to understand the show while obviously preserving the immediate, instantaneous and intuitive aspect of the spectator’s feeling, so that the latter develops his critical sense and broadens his cultural horizons. The objectives of this theatrical training are as follows:

Graphic created by Mélanie Barlot using Jorge’s EEBA presentation7

A concept that has quickly expanded 

Jorge Dubatti explains that this original school « is for all theater lovers: no previous study is required, it is only necessary to have the desire to reflect, discuss, study, interpret, evaluate the theater that is currently being made in Buenos Aires or that passes through its stages. The EEBA brings together those who appreciate the theater as « simple » spectators and those who are related to the scenic activity: actors, directors, scenographers, critics, historians, managers. »8 

Thanks to its values, the EEBA has seen the birth of little sisters, first in Argentina, then throughout South America and finally in Europe. In March 2020, there were 32 Spectators Schools and today there are 58 around the world.

  1. my translation: “La base del acontecimiento teatral es la estructura ancestral de la reunión, el “convivio”, el fenómeno humano de la cultura viviente en el que se genera una zona singular de experiencia y subjetividad colectiva.” in Dubatti, J. (2015). La Escuela de Espectadores de Buenos Aires (2001-2013): un laboratorio de (auto)percepción teatral. In C. Chantraine-Braillon, F. Idmhand & N. Giraldi Dei Cas (dirs.), Théâtre contemporain dans les Amériques : une scène sous la contrainte (pp. 185-192). P.I.E. Peter Lang. []
  2.  Eco, U. (1985). Lector in fabula (Essais Etranger) (French Edition) (0 éd.). GRASSET. []
  3. Know more about the spectators typology : Dubatti, J. (2020). Hacia una Historia Comparada del espectador teatral. In M. Ortiz Rodríguez & M.  Bracciale Escalada (dirs.), De bambalinas a proscenio : perspectivas de análisis para el estudio de las artes escénicas (pp. 8-18). Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata. []
  4. my translation: “El espectador actual es francamente politeísta, abierto y colaborador. Pero por sobre todo es consciente de que para acceder a esas claves hay que estudiar, leer, conocer. No es lo mismo abordar una performance política, un texto de Calderón de la Barca, la danza-teatro o un retablo titiritero. ” in Dubatti, J. (2015). La Escuela de Espectadores de Buenos Aires (2001-2013): un laboratorio de (auto)percepción teatral. In C. Chantraine-Braillon, F. Idmhand & N. Giraldi Dei Cas (dirs.), Théâtre contemporain dans les Amériques : une scène sous la contrainte (pp. 185-192). P.I.E. Peter Lang. []
  5. Barthes, R. (1975). The Pleasure of the Text (Reissue éd.). Hill and Wang. []
  6. my translation: “Los integrantes de la Escuela asisten a una serie de espectáculos, acordados previamente, de diferentes circuitos del teatro porteño (oficial, independiente, comercial, internacional, proveniente de las provincias) y luego los analizan con nuestra coordinación al frente de la clase y con la asistencia de los teatristas creadores del espectáculo analizado. El campo de espectáculos considerados es abarcador de la teatralidad poética: teatro, danza, ópera, narración oral, circo, teatro callejero, títeres, performance arts...” in Dubatti, J. (2015). La Escuela de Espectadores de Buenos Aires (2001-2013): un laboratorio de (auto)percepción teatral. In C. Chantraine-Braillon, F. Idmhand & N. Giraldi Dei Cas (dirs.), Théâtre contemporain dans les Amériques : une scène sous la contrainte (pp. 185-192). P.I.E. Peter Lang. []
  7. Dubatti, J. (2015). La Escuela de Espectadores de Buenos Aires (2001-2013): un laboratorio de (auto)percepción teatral. In C. Chantraine-Braillon, F. Idmhand & N. Giraldi Dei Cas (dirs.), Théâtre contemporain dans les Amériques : une scène sous la contrainte (pp. 185-192). P.I.E. Peter Lang. []
  8. my translation: “está destinada a todos los amantes del teatro, no se requieren estudios previos, solamente es indispensable tener el deseo de reflexionar, discutir, estudiar, interpretar, evaluar el teatro que se hace actualmente en Buenos Aires o que pasa por sus escenarios. A la EEBA asisten aquellas personas que gozan del teatro en tanto  “simples” espectadores y las vinculadas laboralmente a la actividad escénica: actores, directores, escenógrafos, críticos, historiadores, gestores.” in Dubatti, J. (2015). La Escuela de Espectadores de Buenos Aires (2001-2013): un laboratorio de (auto)percepción teatral. In C. Chantraine-Braillon, F. Idmhand & N. Giraldi Dei Cas (dirs.), Théâtre contemporain dans les Amériques : une scène sous la contrainte (pp. 185-192). P.I.E. Peter Lang. []

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