Consideration of Techniques in Theatre to Captivate an Audience

At the Symposium at Falmouth I had the pleasure and good fortune to meet Tim Stubbs Hughes. At his portfolio review with Paul Clements and Sarah Hayes my attention and curiosity was immediately grabbed with his introductory reference to ‘waiting for the dead people to arrive’ and his quote from The Cherry Orchard ‘It’s three degrees outside and the cherry trees are all in blossom’. Tim is a theatre director and it got me thinking about the techniques used in the theatre to captivate, ‘attract and hold the attention and interest of’, an audience.

Tim kindly agreed to an exploratory webinar which Paul Clement joined us to discuss the techniques used in theatre and consider if there are any that can be used within a photography ‘performance’. It was a lively, insightful and enjoyable session.

Tim stated that in theatre the tools available to create effect are lighting, sound, performance, design and text. On text he added it is about positioning, juxtaposition and texture. The essential step in theatre is to get the viewer ‘to come in to your world.’ Overarching all this is a super objective throughout the performance. Tim’s example is one of his favourite plays, The Cherry Orchard, which has the super objective of depression and how to get through it.

Everything in the preceding paragraph is relevant to a photographic performance be it a book, an exhibition or a work of mixed media. Testing my own work against a super objective and understanding how I get my viewer to ‘come in to my world’ are great tests to measure against.

Tim suggested there is usually a beginning middle and end in a theatrical performance. Paul proposed that in photography this does not have to be the case.

Tim talked about ‘Invisible Theatre’ which are live performances that can take place in any public place. The actors act out their play in, for example, a restaurant queue, complete their performance and at the end somehow the audience is made aware they have just seen a play. This form of theatre is often used to raise important social and political issues. Banksy came to mind from the art world.

Applied to photography this idea could be thrusting images of an important issue in to a live audience to make a point. Photographers could turn up with images of environmental damage being done on the planet pasted to the buildings in which the meetings are taking place in Davos each year.

Tim also referred to ‘In-yer-face theatre’ which ‘ is the kind of theatre which grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck and shakes it until it gets the message.’ In yer face. Jo Spence and Nan Goldin come to mind as equivalents in photography.

Tim referred to Robert Lepage’s 887 as a different form of theatre which ‘ is a memory play, and like memory it leaps around in a structure more associative than linear — sometimes quaintly nostalgic, sometimes viscerally angry.’ NYTimesreview . This can be perhaps the photographic equivalent of Paul’s no beginning middle or end.

Finally Tim talked of the use of irony, self assessment, realisation and paradox within dialogue. This is worthy of further exploration as I am giving a lot of thought to the use of words, dialogue, talk over or other forms of verbal attachment for my Final Major Project.

We had a conversation about my own work which remains unresolved between the wider project of personal emotional experiences associated with chronic illness and the specific work in progress around my wife’s assisted suicide for this module. Tim mentioned Don de Lilo’s Love Lies Bleeding. ‘The play is at its best in showing how people impose their own desires on the irrecoverably ill: Lia says of Alex “he wants to die in nature’s time” while Toinette and Sean presume that he wants to be relieved of pain.’ Guardian Review. Paul referred to his own experience of this with his own brother in which relatives made decisions for his brother when he was irrecoverably ill.

This play highlights the importance of tension in a performance to grab attention. Few things are more captivating to human attention than two opposing arguments that are equally balanced. This play is an example with the arguments for and against an intervention in somebody else’s life being equally valid and neither conclusively provable as correct. Each viewer will have their own worldview and seek evidence in the play to support that view. Tension arrises when there is difficulty shooting down the other view without prejudice. See notes on suicide post for further discussion of the issue of assisted suicide.

All human beings seek to identify and understand what they see and experience. Once they have an answer they do no more work to check if there identification is correct. Instead limited effort is put in to confirming the first view is right. This is known as the confirmation bias in human beings. ‘Human beings are prone to believe what they want to believe.’ Psychology Today.


I am struck with how to get the viewer ‘to come in to my world’ for my work and the idea of the super objective. I am also drawn to the idea of creating tension in a work that gives the viewer work to do to resolve it.

Grateful to Tim and Paul for an enlightening and thought provoking conversation. I look forward with interest to the development of Tim’s project.

Categories: Contextual Research IC, Coursework IC, Informing Contexts


I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.