Towards an Ethics of Intimate Audience | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1757-1979
  • E-ISSN: 1757-1987



As so-called ‘intimate theatre’ (Gardner 2009) becomes a feature of UK festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe and the focus of the BAC (Battersea Arts Centre, London) One-on-One Festival (2010 and 2011), so relations between audience and performer alter. This shift has raised concerns about the ethics of theatre audience participation. Taking Adrian Howells’s one-to-one performance Footwashing for the Sole (premiered Glasgow 2009, international touring since 2009) as its case study, the article undertakes an ethical review that identifies key benefits and risks of the activity for Howells and his participants. The evidence is drawn from a three-day interdisciplinary research workshop conducted with Howells and student theatre-makers, witnessed by psychologists and applied ethicists (Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds 2010). Using video clips of the two workshop performances of Footwashing for the Sole, which are available to readers via an online archive, the article proposes an ethics of intimate audience that draws upon a key concept from Eve Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling (2003) read through Nel Noddings’s care theory (1984). It concludes that, in a dynamic heightened by the ‘particular intimacy’ (Sedgwick 2003) between physical touch and emotion, Howells and his audience-participant bring their ‘ethical selves’ (Noddings 1984 and 2007) to this ‘accelerated friendship/relationship between two initial strangers’ (Howells 2009).


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