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Sarah Siddons and Audience Response Theory.

July 5, 2017




An extract from the conclusion to my Thomas Sheridan.  I wonder if what happened to The Beatles by 1966 represents a necessary crisis of performance acclaim.  When performance reception becomes uncritical then performance itself dies, and something else starts to occur…

Sarah Siddons found herself, in later life, encouraged to play larger and larger venues in which the subtelty and intimacy of her earlier performances became increasingly compromised.  Like a jaded singer who increasingly prefers the recording studio to the concert circuit, Siddons became increasingly concerned with her own portraiture and sculpture, seeking (presumably) to immortalise her classic attitudes within a permanent medium.

The response of audiences to Siddons’ performances became ritualized and predictive: people wept because they knew they ought to weep rather than because they were genuinely surprised by a moment of authentic pathos.  Once the effects of performance are regarded as both “famous” and “predictable”, they…

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