Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Oliver Gerland

Second Advisor

Bud Coleman

Third Advisor

Beth Osnes

Fourth Advisor

Penelope Cole

Fifth Advisor

Michelle Ellsworth


This dissertation sets out to provide guidelines for the conceptualization of audience experiences for site-based theatre--theatre events more commonly described as site-specific, site-responsive, or immersive. Creators of site-based theatre should design participative engagement for audiences that immerses participants in the site and interfaces with its contexts, and promotes a visceral and memorable experience of the performance.

Following a definition of site-based theatre, this dissertation investigates conceptual practices of 20 leading practitioners of site-based theatre in contemporary Great Britain; Grid Iron Theatre, Punchdrunk, Pearson/Brookes, Common Wealth Theatre Company, Hydrocracker Theatre, Red Earth, and ZU-UK, among others. Based on interviews with these practitioners, and observations of eight site-based theatre productions in the U.K. between 2011-2013, this dissertation proposes and explores a two-step sequence for the conceptualization of visceral and memorable site-based theatre audience experiences, and derives a taxonomy of the essential qualities of site-based theatre.

Chapter Three explores how site-based theatre benefits from an excited and engaged audience. Some audiences are attracted to site-based theatre’s egalitarian appeal that defies the power implications of the conventional theatre transaction.

Chapter Four explains how real-world sites offer locational, societal, historical and cultural contexts to be perceived and interpreted by the spectator. Numerous considerations for performance and participant interfaces are explored including a range of possible responses to contextual information present in the site.

Chapter Five explores the range of possible participative engagement available to creators of site-based theatre. Conceiving participative engagement requires attention to: inviting agency and active participation; engaging participants in roles in the performance; the usage and effects of immersion, proxemics, haptics and temporality, orientation and disorientation, and transitions; and methods for compelling movement through the performance and site.

This study identifies and discusses two foundational considerations for the conceptualization of site-based theatre and considers the possibility for expanded site-based theatre activity in the United States in the future.