Social Media as Critical Stage: Controversy, Debate and Democracy

  • Bree HadleyEmail author


This chapter reflects on the ways in which social media is transforming the practices of review, critique and commentary that are so critical to theatre makers’ relationships with their audiences, and thus to theatre’s position, power and legacy in the public sphere. As scholars such as Lynne Conner (2013), Christopher Balme (2014) and Toni Sant (2014, 2013, 2009, 2008) have suggested, social media technologies are providing new opportunities for the public to discuss, debate and play a role in determining the meanings of theatre works. A detailed analysis of online debates about controversial works such as Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B, Peta Brady’s Ugly Mugs and Rita Marcalo’s Involuntary Dances shows how spectators use these technologies to push for particular readings of marginalised people and communities depicted on stage. Though traditional criticism operates on a logic of authority, this new user-created criticism operates on a logic of authenticity, changing the way in which theatre practices shape, and are shaped by, the supposedly democratic public debate the draw their many spectators and stakeholders into.


  1. Andrews, Kehinde. 2014. Exhibit B, the Human Zoo, Is a Grotesque Parody—Boycott It. The Guardian, 12 September 2014. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
  2. Bailey, Brett. 2014. Yes, Exhibit B is challenging—but I Never Sought to Alienate or Offend. The Guardian, 25 Sep 2014. Accessed 8 Jan 2015.
  3. Balme, Christoper. 2014. The Theatrical Public Sphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnes, Leslie. 2014. Ugly Mugs: “An Unacceptable Breach of Sex Workers’ Privacy”. The Conversation, 19 Aug 2014. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  5. Bennett, Susan. 1997. Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production an Reception, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Bishop, Clare. 2012. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  7. Blake, Elissa. 2010. Geeks, Tweets and Bums on Seats: How Social Media Is Shaping the Arts in Australia. Sydney Morning Herald. 10 July 2010. Accessed 9 Aug 2013.
  8. Briggs, Asa, and Burke, Peter. 2009. A Social History of Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, 3rd Edition. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  9. Brown, Ismene. 2013. Only the Artists Can Save the Arts Critics. Culture Professionals Network. The Guardian 2 Aug 2013.Google Scholar
  10. Butsch, Richard. 2008. The Citizen Audience: Crowds, Publics and Individuals. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Cameron, Colin. 2014. Disability Studies: A Student’s Guide. London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carson, Christie, and Peter Kirwan. 2014a. Shakespeare and the Digital World: Redefining Scholarship and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carson, Christie, and Peter Kirwan. 2014b. Conclusion: Digital Dreaming. In Shakespeare and the Digital World: Redefining Scholarship and Practice, ed. Christie Carson, and Peter Kirwan, 238–257. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carvajal, Doreen. 2014. On Display, and On a Hot Seat: Exhibit B, a Work about Human Zoos, Stirs Protest. Art & Design, The New York Times. 25 Nov 2014. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
  15. Collins, Eleanor. 2010. Theatre Reviewing in Post-consensus Society: Performance, Print and the Blogosphere. Reviewing Shakespearean Theatre: The State of the Art. Shakespeare 6.3: 330–336.Google Scholar
  16. Conner, Lynne. 2013. Audience Engagement and the Role of Arts Talk in the Digital Era. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Crittenden, Stephen. 2012. Now Everyone Really Is a Critic. Global Mail 6 Feb 2012. Accessed 3 Feb 2015.
  18. Croggon, Alison. 2014a. Sex Workers and Theatre Community at Odds over Ugly Mugs. ABC 22 Aug 2014. Accessed 25 January 2015.
  19. Croggon, Alison. 2014b. Ugly Mugs and the Politics of Representation. Storify. Accessed 25 Jan 2015.
  20. Cunningham, Harriet. 2014. Why I’m Not Going to the Opera Next Year. Daily Review. Crikey 8 December 2014. Accessed 15 July 2015.
  21. Dotiwala, Jasmine. 2013. Training Tommorrow’s Arts Journalists to Save Tommorrow’s Art. Culture Professionals Blog. The Guardian 13Aug 2013. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  22. Gander, Kashmira. 2014. Exhibit B: Performers in “Human Zoo”-Inspired Project Respond to Claims Production is Racist. The Independent 5 Sep 2014. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
  23. Gardner, Lyn. 2014. Edinburgh Festival 2014 Review: Exhibit B—Facing the Appalling Reality of Europe’s Colonial Past. The Guardian 12 Aug 2014. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
  24. Goffman, Erving. 1963. Behaviour in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  25. Goffman, Erving. 1973. Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life. Woodstock: Overlook Press.Google Scholar
  26. Gotman, Kelina. 2012. Epilepsy, Chorea, and Involuntary Movements Onstage: The Politics and Aesthetics of Alterkinetic Dance. About Performance 11: 159–183.Google Scholar
  27. Gray, Jonathan. 2012. Web 2.0 and Collaborative On-Line Performance. Text and Performance Quarterly 32 (1): 65–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Green, Jane. 2014. Sex Workers Protest “Ugly Mugs” at Griffin Theatre in Sydney. Sex Lies Ductape—Sex Worker, Activist and Random Trouble-Maker, 15 Aug 2014. Accessed 20 Jan 2015.
  29. Griffin Theatre. 2014a. Ugly Mugs. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  30. Griffin Theatre. 2014b. RESPONSE TO [Jane Green’s] UGLY MUGS BLOG [endorsed by Scarlett Alliance and Vixen Collective], 13 Aug 2014. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  31. Hadley, Bree. 2014. Disability, Public Space Performance and Spectatorship: Unconscious Performers. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hadley, Bree. 2008b. Remobilising the Monster: Modern Disabled Performers’ Manipulation of the Freakshow. MC Journal 11.3. Accessed 1 June 2013.
  33. Hird, Alison. 2014. French Exhibit B Theatre Defies Anti-racist Human Zoo Protests. Radio France international 7 Dec 2014. Updated 8 Dec 2014. Accessed 8 Jan 2015.
  34. Lobel, Brian. 2012. Spokeswomen and Posterpeople: Disability, Advocacy and Live Art. Contemporary Theatre Review 22 (1): 79–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lutz, Jerry. 1974. Pitchman’s Melody: Shaw about “Shakespeare”. Lewisberg: Bucknell University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Maeres, Joel. 2015. “So Childish”: Opera Australia Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini Revokes Critics’ tickets. Sydney Morning Herald 3 Jan 2015. Accessed 28 Nov 2014.
  37. Malik, Kenan. 2014. Exhbit B and Thinking for Oneself. Pandemonium, 28 Sep 2014. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
  38. Malthouse Theatre. 2014. Ugly Mugs. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  39. Mouffe, Chantal. 2005. On the Political. Abington: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Muir, Hugh. 2014a. Slavery Exhibition Featuring Black Actors Chained in Cages Shut Down.The Guardian 24 Sep 2014. Accessed 6 Jan 2015.
  41. Muir, Hugh. 2014b. Barbican Criticises Protesters Who Forced Exhibit B Cancellation. The Guardian 24 Sep 2014. Accessed 6 Jan 2015.
  42. Myers, Sara. 2014a. Petitioning Jo Daly Executive Assistant to Sir Nicholas Kenyon (Barbican) Sir Nicholas Kenyon [To] Withdraw the Racist Exhibition “Exhibit B—The Human Zoo” from Showing at the Barbican from 23rd–27th Sep. Accessed 4 Jan 2015.
  43. Myers, Sara. 2014b. Withdraw the Rcist Exhibition ”Exhibit B—The Human Zoo.” Facebook. Accessed 4 Jan 2015.
  44. Neutze, Ben. 2014a. Ugly Mugs—Review. Crikey 22 May 2014. Accessed 20 Jan 2015.
  45. Neutze, Ben. 2014b. Sex Workers Accuse Playwright of Exploitation. The Daily Review 13 Aug 2014. Accessed 20 Jan 2015.
  46. Northover, Kylie. 2014. Sex Worker Union Member Attacks Peta Brady Play for Being “Pity Porn.” Sydney Morning Herald 13 Aug 2014. Accessed 20 Jan 2015.
  47. O’Mahony, John. 2014. Edinburgh’s Most Controversial Show: Exhibit B, a Human Zoo, EdinburghFestival 2014, The Guardian 12 Aug 2014.Google Scholar
  48. Page, Ruth. 2012. Stories and Social Media: Identities and Interaction. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Palmer, Richard H. 1988. The Critic’s Cannon: Standards of Theatrical Reviewing in America. New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  50. Reinelt, Janelle. 2011. Rethinking the Public Sphere for a Global Age. Performance Research 16 (2): 16–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sant, Toni. 2008. A Second Life for Online Performance: Understanding Present Developments through an Historical Context. International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media 4 (1): 69–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sant, Toni. 2009. Performance in Second Life: Some Possibilities for Learning and Teaching. In Learning and Teaching in the Virtual World of Second Life, ed. Judith Molka-Sanielsen, and Mats Deutschmann, 145–166. Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press.Google Scholar
  53. Sant, Toni. 2013. Theatrical Performance on the Internet: How Far Have We Come Since Hamnet? International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media 9 (2): 247–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sant, Toni. 2014. Art, Performance, and Social Media. In Routledge Handbook of Social Media, ed. Jeremy Hunsinger, and Theresa M. Senft, 45–58. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  55. Schrum, Wesley. 1991. Critics and Publics: Cultural Mediation in Highbrow and Popular Performing Arts. American Journal of Sociology 97: 347–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Simmonds, Diana. 2015. Lyndon Doesn’t Like Criticism—Who Knew! Stage Noise 2 Jan 2015. Accessed 5 Feb 2015.
  57. Singh, Anita. 2014. Human Zoo Exhibition Featuring Black People in Chains is Closed Down after Protests. Art News, The Telegraph 24 September 2014. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
  58. Stephens, Simon. 2010. Sarah Kane’s debut play Blasted returns. The Guardian, 25 October 2010. Accessed 15 Feb 2015.
  59. Supple, Augusta. 2014. Hey. We’ve Gotta Galk About This—Issues in/with New Writing. Augusta Supple 14 Aug 2014. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  60. Todd, Tony, and Boitiaux, Charlotte. 2014. “Human Zoo” Exhibition Comes to Paris amid Racism Row. Culture. France 24 19 Nov 2014. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
  61. Tracey, Emma. 2009. Interviews—13 Questions: Dance Artist Rita Marcalo. BBC Ouch! 9 Dec 2009. Accessed 10 April 2011.
  62. Verrent, Jo. 2009. Jo Verrent sees Rita Marcalo’s Involuntary Dances, Disability Arts Online 12 Dec 2009. http: Accessed 10 April 2011.
  63. Watts, Richard. 2012. Biting the Hand that Reviews You. ArtsHub 2 Sep 2012. Accessed 27 Nov 2014.
  64. Watts, Richard. 2013. How to Be a Good Audience. ArtsHub 11 Nov 2013. Accessed 27 Nov 2014.
  65. Watts, Richard. 2014. Sex workers accuse Griffin, Malthouse of exploitation. ArtsHub 13 Aug 2014. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  66. Weidner, Ashley. 2009. Social Media in Theatre., 9 August 2011. Accessed 29 Nov 2014.
  67. Wilkinson, Kate. 2009. Theatre Reviewing: Performance versus Criticism. Style 43: 1.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations