Production & Audience (Upd: Apr 24, ’22)

“Butoh works on a very poetic, visceral and emotional level with its audience. You can experience something very directly from Butoh, though you might not be able to clearly define it in words.” – Frances Barbe¹

Show Space & Poor Theatre

Butoh deterritorializes the idea of stage where a stage can transform to any space (man-made or natural), large, small, and unfixed. Performance on the street, inside living quarters, or commercial zones are possible. Butoh can resonate quite well with Grotowski’s idea of the poor theater, which is a form of stripped theater that does not rely on lavish costumes or sets, but the actor alone. Grotowski avoided the traditional theater stage and preferred nontraditional spaces such as buildings or rooms.The term poor theatre came from Ludwik Falszen to describe Growtowski’s performances.11

In contrast, the butoh company known as Sankai Juku has been criticized in the butoh community for its reliance on elegant lighting, set, and pristine choreography.

The following are ideas of that were implemented back in the Himalaya Subbody days. For budget costume ideas see Costume & Lack Thereof.

Poor Theatre Lighting & Music Effects

If it is dark, various forms of substitute lighting can light up a scene. The possibilities are endless: flashlights, portable lamps, monochrome Christmas lights, candles, or if it’s outside, a bonfire.

Flash lights can be a substitute for a spot, but one must look for the broadest and softest light possible because if the focus is too sharp, it will blowout wherever the focus is with far too much contrast. If there is nothing but a sharp flashlight, then one should shine the light not on the face (or even the body if possible) but beside the body so that the afterglow hits the subject with a faint light. More than one flashlight may be needed. A see-through fabric can also be used to soften the light. If one wants a gel substitute, a transparent tinted vinyl sheet or tinted bag might work.

If one is not utilizing live music, a portable bluetooth speaker can be used. This is especially useful if the performance is a traveling one with a traveling audience. If a venue has audio, it is still a good idea to carry a bluetooth speaker as a backup.


The two main types of documentation are video and photography. If you are having somebody document a piece, do not assume anything about their ability to document, especially if they are not a professional. Specify all the details you wish such as: (1) how much intrusion of space is permissible; (2) tripod or not; (3) Zoom/portraits or not; (4) for video, entirety filmed or excerpts; (5) no heads or limbs cut off or other specifications.


For there to be an audience, there has to be at least one observer, and their place is a strange one as Peter Brook mentions: “It is hard to understand the true notion of the spectator, there and not there, ignored and yet needed.”²

The audience placement can take on several forms, e.g.: (1) from a side; (2) surrounding the performer; (3) at the center of the performance; (4) made to follow the performer to another space. Rhizome Lee’s concept of the nomadic rhizome is one example of number 4. In the nomadic rhizome, the audience is made to literally travel with the performers on a journey of endlessly differentiating spaces. By proxy, this gives the performance a strong audience participation aspect. Haunted house type theatre performances also uses this concept.

One can even play around with the amount of audience, such as having a one-on-one performance (one person at a time.)

The time and attention of the observer can be like currency. To Lakoff, two of the conceptual metaphors for time include TIME IS MONEY and TIME IS A RESOURCE.12 We seem to often perform in order to exchange something-to-show for the currency of attention.

The question may then come, why do we want the attention of these people? Who are these people? Are they only here to fill their dopamine-starved quota? The performer may have traveled the depths of the soul, but we cannot guarantee that the audience will take in even a small percentage of that depth. The audience’s experience could even be on par with any other simple thrill like an Instagram swipe serving an endless hole of instant gratification desire.

It is not essential to satisfy the audience, but it is to leave a powerful impression. As Artaud put it, “We are not appealing to the audience’s minds or senses, but to their whole existence.”³ It is also not essential to lay out specific meaning or story for the audience. The most important part is to evoke feeling, not an intellectual response.

Kazuo Ohno explains: “The audience can be moved without having to comprehend all that goes into making your performance. Isn’t that the very reason we dance – to engage the audience on a visceral level? That is why I’m at a terrible loss to hear people talk of understanding my performance. Of course, you can use your brains to think, but when it comes to dancing, just forget all that.”4

Because humans are generally not satisfied with the ambiguous, they often try to impose labels upon it with that of the familiar. So if for instance somebody has never seen or known of Sea lions, and then witnesses one, the witness may be inclined to call it a water dog, mermaid dog, or merdog, possibly neglecting the uniqueness (or third category) of the phenomenon. Geoffrey Harpham calls these inaccurate labels storage spaces for non-things.5 A similar situation often occurs when somebody witnesses Butoh for the first time. Having never seen such a phenomenon, the witness may feel it is a form or corruption of mime, dance, theater, and/or performance art, but Butoh stands alone.

So when watching a Butoh performance: (1) quiet the mind; (2) be open; (3) feel. The type of audience for butoh may be the same type Grotowski desired when he said, “We are concerned with the spectator who has genuine spiritual needs and who really wishes, through confrontation with the performer, to analyse himself.10

Exercise 1: Waking the Ash Man

This is an exercise that deeply ties the performer to the audience. Beforehand, the audience is to make noise and/or movement of any kind. The audience is a direct influence on the dancer who wakes up from ash body (resonates) when there is audience participation.

Exercise 2: Entering/Exiting

This is an exercise in finding as many varying ways to enter and exit a stage/space. Oftentimes, the interesting endings or beginnings are neglected. Essentially, this is cultivating good Jos and Kyus of Jo-Ha-Kyus. Consider also that when one enters or exits the space, the audience is to believe that the activity was already going on before you went on stage and will still go on after one has left.

Exercise 3: Traveling Spontaneous Performance

The following was guided by Alessia Mallardo. We traveled in a slow jog on a trail into the hills, but at anytime, anybody (due to resonating), can stop and 1 minute perform at any place along the way. Then, the jog continues.*

Deterritorialized & Beyond Human Audience

Deterritorialized audience/guests are one that breaks the bounds of what typically would be known as audience. In performance art, for instance, when there is audience interaction, the audience has stepped outside of the bounds of mere observer and mixed with performer. In this way, they could be called perforbserver, spectactor, or ghouest (host + guest).

A good performer is aware of the audience, and if this is so, has not that performer then also become the spectator of the spectator?

In the butoh jam phenomena, we may really see an audience/performer integration take place. The audience at any moment may join and what would have been seen as performance may the next minute be spectatorship.

What entails audience can also be taken beyond human such as animals,  ourselves (such as in the mirror), or as even abstract as spirits or  God(s), which expresses the performativity/theater within Bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion). The audience can also be the simple part of ourselves that is observing. Early dance throughout the ages was often a ritual for spirits or gods. Can we make, again, the spirits or gods the audience?

Show End

Not everybody desires the traditional clapping of the audience. At the beginning of the show, the audience can be told not to clap or the performance can transition straight into some other form of event such as a party food event and/or butoh jam.


Touching audience members is ethically questionable. Lauren Wingenroth says, “[T]heaters should be spaces where people of all physical abilities and backgrounds can feel safe and respected.”9

Schechner’s 3 Types of Time

The length of time in a performance is broken up into 3 from the performance theorist Richard Schechner: (1) Event time; (2) Set time; (3) Symbolic time. Butoh can play around with any of these.

Event time, when the activity itself has a set sequence and all the steps of that sequence must be completed no matter how long (or short) the elapsed clock time. Examples: baseball, racing, hopscotch; rituals where a “response” or a “state” is sought, such as rain dances, shamanic cures, revival meetings; scripted theatrical performances taken as a whole.

Set time, where an arbitrary time pattern is imposed on events—they begin and end at certain moments whether or not they have been “completed.” Here there is an agonistic contest between the activity and the clock. Examples: football, basketball, games structured on “how many” or “how much” can you do in x time.

Symbolic time, when the span of the activity represents another (longer or shorter) span of clock time. Or where time is considered differently, as in Christian notions of “the end of time,” the Aborigine “dreamtime,” or Zen’s goal of the “ever present.” Examples: theater, rituals that reactualize events or abolish time, make- believe play and games.7

In performance art, anything that focuses on a long passage of time (such as 3 hours or more) is called a durational piece.8

¹ Barbe, Frances. The Way of Butoh and Contemporary Choreography: Reflective. Writing on Choreographic Research. n.d. Web. 20 April 2010.
² Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. New York :Atheneum, 1968. Print. Page 61.
³ Artaud, Antonin. Artaud on Theatre. Edited with commentary by Claude Schumacher. 1989. Page xxxiii.
4 Ohno, K. (1 997b), Workshop Words (Keiko no Kotoba), Tokyo: Shichou Sha. (Japanese Edition).
5 Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. On the Grotesque. New Jersey. 1982. Print. Page 6.
6 Poor Theatre Conventions. The Drama Teacher.
7 Schechner, Richard, and Richard Schechner. Performance Theory. , 1988. Print. Page 6.
8 Paul Allain, Jen Harvie, The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance, Routledge, 2014, p. 221.
9 Wingenroth, Lauren. We Need To Talk About Non-consensual Audience Participation. Dance Magazine. Oct 12. 2018.
10 Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre. Hoboken. 1968. Page 40.
11 Ludwik Flaszen: “Dziady”, “Kordian”, “Akropolis” at the 13 Rows Theater, “Theater Diary” 1964, book 3, pp. 220–228; reprint [in:] Mystery of horror and fascination. Performances by Jerzy Grotowski and the Laboratory Theater, edited by Janusz Degler and Grzegorz Ziółkowski, Wrocław 2006, pp. 53–69.
12 Lakoff, George. Aspects Of The Self Are Distinct Individuals. Conceptual Metaphor Home Page. 1994.
* As part of the butoh retreat program at Tiyatro Medresesi in Sirince, Turkey, February 2022.
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