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‘What’s bigger than a standing ovation?’: Intimacy and spectacle at the Tony Awards

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In 1963, J. S. Siegels described two opposing methods by which artists could affect their audiences. The first was an aesthetic of grandeur: ‘a principle of force, based on the sheer size and power of the impression’. The second was an aesthetic of intimacy, ‘a principle of attraction: it demands a closeness of association between subject and audience, and necessitates identification and involvement’. Almost half a century later there remains a lingering understanding that intimacy and spectacle are irreconcilable. While small performances are increasingly praised for their ability to offer audiences ‘authentically’ intimate encounters with ‘real’ people, ‘largeness’ is often associated with artificiality, insincerity, the manufactured spectacular. By analysing online comments to a YouTube video of ‘Bigger!’ – the celebration of ‘Big Broadway’ performed by Neil Patrick Harris during the 2013 Tony Awards – this article shows how audiences are able to feel a sense of intimacy while watching big performances, even when these are not experienced ‘live’.
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Keywords: Neil Patrick Harris; Tony Awards; audiences; authenticity; intimacy; liveness; online fandom; spectacle

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent scholar

Publication date: March 1, 2016

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