Before the speeches of Offending the Audience begin, Peter Handke’s script contains a section titled “Rules for the actors.” The four speakers are urged to seek out forms of popular art and other experiences which, presumably, would help to free them from the methods of delivery or acting inculcated by their previous training. The actors are told to strive for a sameness of sound, without individual inflection, as if in a crowd or ritual situation; they are also told to make up the partially inarticulate lines and deliver those lines very fast in overlapping and even simultaneous fashion.
Before the curtain opens and the lights onstage and in the auditorium are turned up, the audience is to have the typical pre-performance experiences: formally attired ushers, proper programs, and noises from behind the closed curtain that sound like a crew setting up. When the curtain parts, the equal lighting of both stage and auditorium, a stage without props or scenery, actors who rehearse invectives which cannot be completely heard, all signal to the audience that the play will not be traditional, and perhaps not entertaining. The audience is welcomed, the piece is announced as a “prologue,” and the actors proceed with a series of lines, the grammatical subject of which is “you.”
The first task of the speakers is to disillusion the audience as to what it will see and hear. Attention is caught by a paradox: On one hand the audience will not see what it usually sees; on the other hand it will see nothing that is really unusual. The play or prologue will not create another world, with props, fictional characters, and compelling plot. The stage does not represent a room, with an invisible wall between the actors and the audience, as in realistic theater where members of the audience are in the position of onlookers and eavesdroppers. Gestures and speeches are not meant to suggest anything other than what they would in normal, direct communication. In this sense, the audience will not experience anything unusual.
In the course of disillusioning the audience, the speakers make it aware of...
(The entire section is 869 words.)