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. []

The e-spect@tor digital tool

Within the framework of the Spectator School’s creation, we started from the principle that the analysis of performative works for a professor or a researcher is not an easy task since, in essence, these works are ephemeral and cannot be reproduced identically. For the analysis of plays (in our case) it is essential for the researcher to have access to the elements that document their creation (photos, drawings of the staging, sets, costumes, press clippings, etc.), but we know that these elements are not easily and clearly accessible because they are very numerous and very often scattered among the different participants in the creation of a show.

Starting from this observation, it seemed logical to us to think about a way to get around these difficulties, and it is in this that lies the interest of the digital tool which will be, more precisely, a tool of analysis and annotation of videos of shows adapted to the study of performative works. Concretely, the e-spect@tor digital tool will allow, within the framework of the virtual Spectator’s School, the annotation of videos thanks to the already existing software:  Celluloïd. Celluloïd has been created in 2015 by Laurent Tessier, researcher in Sociology and Michaël Bourgatte, researcher in Information and Communication Sciences as a web application, both at the Institut Catholique de Paris. It proposes the (individual or group) annotation of video documents from Youtube 1. We chose to rely on this accessible tool because it seemed to us to be perfectly adapted to our needs since it allows spectators to record their impressions and thoughts at the precise moments that come to mind, as is the case when they attend a performative work.

However, in order to best fit our wishes for the research work, the e-spectator tool will bring complementary functionalities to those already existing in Celluloid. For example, we decided to add a “performance mode” (the video cannot be stopped, to allow spontaneous annotations) and an “analysis mode” (the video can be stopped and the annotations will be suggested to the spectator thanks to the creation of a lexical database specific to the live performance).

© Test of the performance mode on the video of Ramona au Grill of Karen Veloso (Chilean performer artist and PhD in Performing Arts) / Cécile Chantraine Braillon

Moreover, we want to give the user the possibility to access other videos than those hosted not only by Youtube or another video host but also on his own database. In order to give the opportunity to the user to be able to create his own collection of videos, another feature has been included into the tool as this resource is an archive of the live show: in concrete terms, the user has the possibility to provide a list of metadata, the fifteen of the Dublin Core elements set2 concerning the video he has decided to upload before annotating. Fourthly, all the analysis data created during the annotation can be extracted in order to allow manipulation outside the software if needed and to share it with other researchers. 

But we also thought that, in order to facilitate the treatment and the analysis of all the data created by the user on his own or in a collective work, is required the creation of an ontology specific to the Performing Arts.

© View on the “annotation by ontology” functionality / Cécile Chantraine Braillon

That’s why a group composed of teachers, researchers in “Performing Arts” and in Digital Humanities, and authors and actors practicing in the performing arts, is currently carrying out a thorough analysis in order to meet this epistemological need. The vocabulary obtained at the end of this work will be integrated into the digital tool, which will facilitate categorization and structuring when users extract data.

The Spectator’s School project aims to enhance the value of research in the Performing Arts, particularly through digital technology. The purpose is to advance the study of performative works and to make their production and documentation easily accessible and analyzable thanks to digital technology. The Spectator School intends to contribute to the theoretical and epistemological mutation of the field by associating research and training around two experiences of performance: real and virtual.

  1. At the time of writing, the creation of new projects on the Celluloïd application is no longer possible due to the deactivation of the API by the video hosting website Youtube. Laurent Tessier and Michaël Bourgatte explained the reasons for this on the research notebook dedicated to Celluloïd in May 2020: the solution envisaged to date is to “turn to free and open source video hosting solutions, first and foremost PeerTube“. []
  2. the fifteen elements of the Dublin Core are the following : contributor, coverage, creator, date, description, format, identifier, language, publisher, relation, rights, source, subject, title, type. []

Spectator’s School presentation by Cécile Chantraine Braillon

On the occasion of the conference : “Theatricality – Antitheatricality: Transdisciplinary and Scenological Studies on Contemporary Theater” organized by the Prof. Jorge Dubatti on December 17th, 2020 (spanish version)

from 6:03:35 to 6:59:30

On the ocasion of the conference : “Digital Humanities: a historical transdiscipline at La Rochelle Université” on November 13th, 2020 (french version)

The genesis of the Spectator’s School (École du spectateur) project

→ The origins :

The Spectator’s School is directly inspired by the “Escuela de Espectadores”. The first “Escuela de Espectadores” combining research and creation was founded in Buenos Aires by Prof. Jorge Dubatti (Universidad de Buenos Aires) in 2001. Jorge Dubatti has participated until today in the creation of 52 Escuelas de Espectadores throughout South America, the most recent being the one in Asunción, Paraguay.
The idea of setting up this project was also motivated by the research work within the ANR Chispa project (aimed at the valorization of Spanish-Uruguayan archive collections) carried out by Cécile Chantraine Braillon (the Spectator’s School project coordinator) and Fatiha Idmhand  between 2014 and 2017. Within the framework of this ANR project, a reflection has been developed on the possibility of valorizing research in Performing Arts thanks to the computerization and the online availability of documents (according to the genesis of the works for example). And this is, today, what the The Spectator’s School aspires to achieve.

→ The first steps  :

The Spectator’s School was inaugurated on November 14th, 2019 on the occasion of the performance of the play Orfeo written by Carlos Denis Molina in front of the students of La Rochelle Université. This performance ended with a question-and-answer session on the “edge of the stage” which allowed a real exchange between the students and the actors.

Meeting between researchers, artists and the public for the inauguration of the Spectator’s School

A second session (a virtual one this time) took place on February 1st, 2021, with the proposal of a performative course by Laurence Andreini-Allione (director, founder of the Théâtre Amazone, university speaker, artistic consultant at the Lycée Valin in La Rochelle)  to students.

Spectator’s School‘s videoconference session


→ For the future :

The idea is to divide the analysis of Performing Arts into two different schools without losing sight of the willingness to systematically integrate digital technology in training and in research in Performing Arts. There are for one side a school in person (“in vivo”: meetings between researchers, artists and the public) and for the other side a digital (virtual) school that will be based on the development of a digital tool called : e-spect@tor. 

École du spectateur – Spectator’s School

The project “L’École du spectateur – Spectator’s School ” is a scientific project in Digital Humanities which aims to promote research in the field of Performing Arts using digital technology. It is focused on the development of the spectator’s school (École du Spectateur) founded at La Rochelle Université in November 2019.
This school is both a school of encounters (between researchers, artists and the public) and a digital school (accompanied by the manipulation of digital tools). Both in vivo and virtual, it can thus respond to the dual challenge of the integral and systemic participation of digital technology in research and training in the performing arts.
On the one hand, in the framework of the “performative turn” that performing arts research is currently experiencing since the 2000’s, the aim is to advance the study of performative works which are by their very nature ephemeral and therefore not reproducible in an identical manner. And on the other hand, the objective is, thanks to the digital revolution, to make the production and documentation of Performing Arts easily accessible and analysable through digital technology.

The Spectator’S School blog’s purpose is to report on the progress of the project which is funded by Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region , CRHIA  (Centre de Recherches en Histoire Internationale et Atlantique), La Rochelle Université  , L3i (Laboratoire Informatique Image et Interaction de La Rochelle Université), CRLA (Centre de Recherches Latino-Américain, Université de Poitiers), Erasmus+ PartnershipHauts de France Region,  (CPER MAuVE ) and Newseye’s H2020  project.

The topics the blog will focus on are:

  • the progress of the Spectator’s school project
  • the Spectactor’s school project’s events
  • the dissemination of the Spectator’s school project
  • the e-spect@tor digital tool’s development
  • the epistemological issues linked to the performative turn in Performing Arts research
  • information related to the scientific subject of the Spectator’s school project