“It was an act of violence, it was shocking, in a sense it broke the invisible wall between the participant and the spectator,
The way he entered into the arena of the fan, rather than stay in his own environment, he crossed into the invisible line, and i think that was different (to other dramatic sporting events)”
Moving beyond the theatrical fourth wall
That was the view of the broadcaster, and Man Utd fan, Jim White who reflected recently on BBC5 live, on the incident that occurred at Selhurst Park, in January 1995, 5 minutes into the second half, Eric Cantona left the pitch after being sent off, and being provoked, reacted violently to kick into the chest of an opposing fan.
When i was 9, my family and I went to the Fairfield halls in Croydon to the Pantomime, a star-studied list of 70’s and 80’s B list celebrities were in action, the one actor that i remember participating was Terry Scott, he of Terry and June fame (ask your parents). At one point after a costume change he’d forgotten to zip his flies and the 1/2 his white shirt was visible in that area, it was funny, but that, here is beside the point. The other thing I remember, that is relevant here is that about 3/4 of the way through the performance, the actors left the confines of the stage to run, dance, holler along the aisles of the spectators, what they also did at that point was select the least likely of willing new participants from the audience to join in with their dance or song (i cant remember what), the reason i remember this is that the most unwilling of performers that Terry Scot chose at the end of the row was my Dad. It was comedic, and we enjoyed it at the time and afterwards, yet there has always been for me a terrifying thought that at a panto id be next, so theres no way id be sitting on the end of the row, ever.
The so called fourth wall is the imaginary barrier that stands in front of a traditional three-walled theatrical stage and separates the actors from the audience, its the invisible window into the world-of-the-play through which spectators watch the action unfold. There’s something threatening to the world of the audience if the invisible wall is crossed, whether in an act of violence (aka Cantona) or for the sake of Comedy (the Panto), the rules are broken, the playing field is momentarily levelled and improvisation occurs
Vanhoozer (2014) extrapolate from the notion of the potential invisible walls between the actor and the audience to consider the same walls within the church of pastor and congregation , church and the world. Yet originally, it could also be said that that the threatening and subversively violent act of incarnation of the Son into the world, crossed the invisible wall between the creator and his creatures- this crossing, threatened many. Jesus continual crossing of social boundaries broke other invisible walls, such as the woman at the well, the receiving of children, the touching of a leper, the listening to a blind man, healing on the sabbath. It was not a peaceful movement, that brought about change, it threatened the walls that existed, and ultimately curtains were irrevocably torn in two.
To think about the theatrical fourth wall and the invisible separation in the church has largely been created to suit a post-enlightenment, critical distance and abstract way of observing in theatre, Boal ( 1979) describes it as “In the beginning was the dithyrambic song, free people singing in the open air, the feast, the carnival. Later the ruling classes took possession of the theatre and built dividing their walls. First they divided the people, separating actors from spectators, people who act, people who watch, the party is over! Secondly among the actors, they separated the protagonists from the mass.”
Crossing the invisible fourth walls, that have been built, conditioned and lovingly structured in the theatres of the church might take comedic or violent action, that will threaten some to not only see them, but also break them down. Vanhoozer goes on to argue that the acting of the church in the world, as in improvising with the biblical script will break down these barriers. That collective action whereby not clergy/lay but all people participate in the production, and, that given that the venue of the audience is the watching world (not aloof from it) at that point then another wall is broken down. Stating that “It is Christian doctrine that breaks down the dividing walls of passivity (within the church) and incomprehensibility (btw church and the world) , it breaks the wall of passivity because the word of God demands a response, faith is something to be done, acted out. It breaks down the wall of incomprehensibility to the extent that the world begins to understand what God and gospel mean by watching and interacting with the church (KJV, 2014:37)”
Detached work with young people on the street threatens, as by being in the space of young people, they are threatened to make a choice about their interaction with us, it is a threatening place that crosses the walls of separation of the world of the young people and the world created around young people, detached brokers that wall. When we get questions like “why are you here” its indicative of the threat that we may be being, the walls of separation that are being threatened, a reduction in choice-time that young people have- where to go somewhere is to have power over that choice, but in receiving something in their world they have less power in the choosing, only the accepting of and receiving. Its a threat.
As Ive reflected on Eric Cantona, Croydon Theatre, Jesus’ incarnation and the theatre of the church, it has become clear that common factors are that it is when the actor that breaks through the invisible wall between themselves and the audience/spectator that has the dramatically shocking and threatening effect. At that point the tables are turned, the boundaries of their script are torn up, after all, Terry Scott would have no idea whether my Dad would cooperate- or punch him in the nose, it is a comedic change of fortunes and reduction of control. What place then the performance of interactive redemptive theatre on the worlds stage? Are the gloves off in its improvisation? what walls are to be broken? how might improvisation occur that takes its cues not from behind the walls, but from the God who goes before us?
You can hear the Radio 5 documentary of the infamous Cantona Kung Fu Kick on BBCi player. Vanhoozer (2014) is titled ‘Faith, Speaking & Understanding; Performing the drama of doctrine”