Roger Bernat. Photo: Blenda, 2012

Roger Bernat retakes documents, testimonies and historical stagings to elaborate projects in which the community becomes protagonist. There are no longer individual actors who embody the characters but it is the audience that, not without irony, represents the collective.

His shows include:

Public Domain (Teatre LLiure, Barcelona, 2008),

The Rite of Spring (Teatro Milagro, México, 2010),

Please Continue (Hamlet) (Théâtre du Grütli, Genève, 2011),

Pending Vote (Centro Dramático Nacional, Madrid, 2012),

Desplazamiento del Palacio de La Moneda (STML, Santiago de Chile, 2014),

Numax-Fagor-plus (KunstenFestivalDesArts, Bruxelles, 2014),

We need to talk (Temporada Alta, Girona, 2015),

No se registran conversaciones de interés (MUCEM, Marseille, 2016-17) or

The place of the Thing (Documenta 14, Athens-Kassel, 2017).

The shows have been performed in more than 30 countries.

In 2009 he published with Ignasi Duarte, Querido Público, El espectador ante la participación: jugadores, usuarios, prosumers y fans. Ed. Cendeac. He has also written articles for Joined Forces, audience participation in theatre (Alexander Verlag, Berlin, 2017) and Teatro relacional (Ed. Fundamentos, Madrid, 2017), among others.

In 2017 he was awarded the Sebastià Gasch Prize.

User’s manual:

  • 1. The first instructions are to stop reading! Just like with games (and electric home appliances), it is easier to discover the rules while you play. If you still want to skip the first instructions, here are the others:
  • 2. Projects like Domini públic, The Rite of Spring and Pending Vote were created without the aura that Benjamin attributed to much of the pre-industrial establishment and that 20th-century theatre was determined to conserve. Rather than rely on the presence and emotions of actors, these shows stand over an emptiness that the audience members have to confront.
  • 3. It seems as if there are no actors nor scenography in my shows. You will not be able to identify with the people and objects that ought to populate the stage. Your only indications will be a few signals on a stage of which you and the rest of the audience will be the sole inhabitants. You’ll be the actor of the piece. In fact, there won’t be any spectators.
  • 4. You will be asked questions and invited to respond. You will have to decide whether to follow the directions or remain on the sidelines. The show will take shape based on your answers – and your silences. You will share responsibility for the show.
  • 5. Your role as audience member will be that of an avatar that assumes an identity to be the star of a story. Your responsibility will be circumscribed by the time and space of the fiction.
  • 6. These shows do not promote participation. They are inert mechanisms until some audience member gives form to them. If you decide not to use them and none of the other audience members does so either, the show will develop virtually, such as when you read a play or novel.
  • 7. No audience member will have the privilege of observing what the rest do from the outside. Even if you are one of those audience members that decide not to participate, you will still form part of the mechanism. In keeping with the simile above, you’ll form part of a book starting from the moment you decide to read it, even if you skip some paragraphs or whole chapters.
  • 8. You will make decisions that will not be shared by the rest of the audience members. The mechanism tends to individualise people. This solitude, which is more ghostly than physical given the presence of the other audience members, will be accentuated because, as Agamben notes, the mechanism tends to evacuate all authority.1 You will not find yourself before a strong system, taking on the challenge of turning unity into a weapon, creating a feeling of community along the way. Here you’ll feel alone.
  • 9. The mechanism will isolate you and you will confront your own desire (for a show). Rather than see a show, you will cross paths with one. Nevertheless, you will wonder what it means to form part of a community or if it makes sense to talk about it. In other words, you will wonder what we’re saying when we say us.
  • 10. Unlike audience members that think they can judge from their seat, you will be immersed in a mechanism where you’ll have to find your way without ever knowing whether you’re choosing the right path. It will be hard for you to judge and you’ll probably leave the room judging yourself, asking yourself if you did it well. However, the show takes no ideal form. Each new presentation gives rise to new forms.
  • 11. The price you will have to pay to act will be that of forming part of a mechanism that will seem strange to you at first. You will be immersed in a mechanism whose objectives you won’t know and whose obligations you’ll fear. You will have to obey or conspire or, in another perverse version of the equation, obey while conspiring. But in any case, you’ll have to pay with your own body and commit.
  • 12. We end not with instructions, but with advice from the physicist John Archibald Wheeler: “May the universe in some strange sense be brought into being by the participation of those who participate? The vital act is the act of participation. Participation is the incontrovertible new concept given by quantum physics. It strikes down the term ‘observer’ of classical theory, the man who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can’t be done, quantum mechanics says.”2

1. Giorgio Agamben, Què vol dir ser contemporani?, 2008.

2. John Archibald Wheeler, Gravitation, 1973.


Roger Bernat by Paul B. Preciado (Documenta 14, 2017)

First, imagine a theater with no actors. Now get rid of the stage. Then take out the walls and the chairs. What remains? The audience—a public confronted, as in a mirror, with itself, no longer able to escape by simply consuming the play being performed; a public whose relationship with theater can no longer be anything but an act of cannibalism, the consumption of their own dramatic condition.

In 2008, theater artist Roger Bernat created Domini Públic (Public Space), a show in which those attending are presented with headphones and guided by instructions relayed so that they “act” among the pedestrians crossing a square. Rather than pandering to a fiction of a category of actors distinct from the rest of us, the piece isolates its participants and confronts them with the responsibility of having to perform, while also constructing an ephemeral social architecture. In Númax-Fagor-Plus (2014), Bernat stages a reenactment of the workers’ assemblies at the Spanish Númax and Fagor factories in 1979 and 2013, respectively, using declarations from the former struggle as theatrical protocols for workers who lost their jobs in the latter. Perhaps the most ambitious of his proposals, as much for its genealogical importance as for its scale, is Displacement of La Moneda Palace (2014), in which social and neighborhood organizations in Santiago transported a small-scale model of La Moneda—the icon of democratic possibility damaged during the 1973 Chilean coup—to the lowest per capita income area of the city. The mobile stage accompanying it gave onlooker-participants the chance to voice their concerns without preconception, turning them into actors for an unwritten scenario. Here, expanded theater becomes a far-reaching device for an audience destined to perform (or fail to perform) history.

Bernat’s work provokes a dissolution of drama, but that dissolution is also a generalization of the theatrical device. There is no theater because theater is everywhere. That generalized form becomes a critical tool at the paradoxical crossroads of the crisis of representative democracy, when new modes of interchange and knowledge production, fostered by horizontal technologies that erase the positions of emitter and receiver, contend with the return of fascist fantasies of unmediated access to communal truth. As Bernat states, “Democracy is not just a form of government, but a way of representing reality.” Taking a lead role in this scenario, participatory theater “takes on the responsibility of developing a critique of the devices—screens, platforms, networks—which run things today.”

Théories de la relativité (extraits) par Roberto Fratini, 2014

La recherche de Roger Bernat constitue le cas presque unique d’une véritable « poétique de la participation ». De Domini Public à Numax-Fagor-plus, Bernat traverse tous les cadres et les règles de l’interaction, réorganise les instruments du temps et de l’espace et transforme avec une simplicité extraordinaire les conditions performatives, sans jamais renoncer à décliner l’interaction, à la pervertir (dans le meilleur sens du mot), afin de faire de l’interaction la circonstance critique et symbolique qu’elle avait dû être aux origines. Bernat transforme les techniques de l’engagement du public, traditionnellement basées sur des processus de type psychologique ou émotionnel, en de véritables technologies : re-pensée éthique des paradigmes de l’interaction. Si la norme technique est la production de la sincérité, l’exception technologique – la perversion poétique mise en scène par Bernat – démasque systématiquement la sincérité. Si le spectacle de participation doit fonctionner comme un dispositif, les dispositifs utilisés par Bernat sont toujours le produit d’une relecture des instruments médiatiques, instruments qui sont le résultat d’une révision des technologies actuelles qui se veut formellement neutre et désincarnée. Révision qui, sémantiquement, est faussement neutre. Les dispositifs sont donc utilisés pour démontrer que le lieu de la sincérité est à priori dégradé par un sorte de fausseté structurelle qui est la nécessaire maladie primitive et le privilège dialectique de n’importe quel théâtre. Pour le spectateur, habiter ce lieu est une tache épineuse, parfois douloureuse. Il n’y a pas de conscience si la conscience n’est pas piégée.

Temps difficiles pour le public : une fois achevée les métaphores communautaires, le spectateur redevient (tragiquement) soi- même, conscient d’être symbole ou métaphore de la vérité parce que la scène qu’il a en face, de plus en plus vide, de moins en moins « persuasive », a renoncé à être le symbole ou la métaphore d’une mensonge. La participation fait problème en soi. Le rituel échoue précisément pour démontrer qu’à un niveau éthique l’échec ou la perversion des dynamiques communautaires est nécessaire pour développer une conscience réellement sociale. En plus, au niveau poétique, le spectateur participatif, laissé seul à écrire son rôle de spectateur, est le dernier Hamlet d’une longue généalogie du doute. Pour cette raison, si les formes et l’inefficacité performative de ce spectateur – les « insuffisances » de sa prestation – constituent une sorte de réduction poétique (au contraire, le fait de mal faire semblant serait une nouvelle confirmation de la miraculeuse contribution à la vérité représentée par sa présence), dans le théâtre de Roger Bernat cette inefficacité même est le moteur d’une nécessaire, hamletienne, prise de conscience des possibilités et des impossibilités implicites au statut de spectateur, citoyen, humain. Si le format de la participation cherche en général à éliminer, à ignorer ou à sous-estimer tout ce qui empêche l’expérience d’un absolu, d’une immersion totale et médiumique (qui s’avère, malheureusement, totalitaire et médiatique), Roger Bernat invite le spectateur à une véritable théorie de la relativité, à l’expérience poétique et pas toujours consolatoire de l’insuffisance et du doute. Le moment politique du théâtre commence justement ici. Dans le fait de savoir que la liberté dépurée du nouveau spectateur ne réside pas dans la liberté de choisir (qui est, finalement, la plus puissante des idéologies de la société de consommation et le piège de l’interactivité médiatisée), mais dans la nature éthique de ce qu’il choisit. Et aussi que faire le bon choix, ou le moins nuisible, est la plus lourde des responsabilités poétiques.