Judi Dench says trigger warnings ruin viewer experience: ‘If you’re that sensitive, don’t go to the theater’

May 15, 2024 | Latest News | 0 comments

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Dame Judi Dench was asked about her opinion on trigger warnings in theater productions, to which she responded that audience members with sensitive natures might avoid the theater altogether.

She expressed skepticism toward the necessity of content advisories, asking what the point of going to the theater actually is. 

“I can see why they exist, and it is preparing people, I suppose, but if you’re that sensitive, don’t go to the theater, because you could be very shocked,” Dench said during an interview published this week in “Radio Times” magazine.

“Why go to the theater if you’re going to be warned about things that are in the play? Isn’t the whole business of going to the theater about seeing something that you can be excited, surprised, or stimulated by? It’s like being told they’re all dead at the end of ‘King Lear.’ I don’t want to be told,” the English actress continued. 

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Dench’s remarks echo the comments made by fellow thespians Matt Smith and Ralph Fiennes. 

When asked in February about trigger warnings on BBC One’s “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg,” Fiennes said, “I think we didn’t use to have trigger warnings. I mean, they are very disturbing scenes in ‘Macbeth,’ terrible murders and things… the impact of theater should be that you’re shocked and you should be disturbed. I don’t think you should be prepared for these things and when I was young, [we] never had trigger warnings for shows.”

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“Shakespeare’s plays are full of murderers, full of horror. As a young student and lover of the theater, I never experienced trigger warnings telling me: ‘By the way, in ‘King Lear,’ Gloucester is going to have his eyes pulled out’… Theater has to be alive and connect in the present. It’s the shock, the unexpected, that’s what makes an actor [in] theater so exciting,” Fiennes continued.

“That’s why we go to the theater, isn’t it? To be shocked, to be arrested out of ourselves, to recognize ourselves in front and with an audience,” Smith said later in February on BBC One’s “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.”

“Radio Times” noted the practice of using trigger warnings on theater productions to Dench during a round of questions, to which she replied, “Do they do that? My God, it must be a pretty long trigger warning before ‘King Lear’ or ‘Titus Andronicus’!”

She added that while she can sympathize with the reasoning behind trigger warnings, she has concerns for how they can impact an audience’s viewing experience. 

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“Where is the surprise of seeing and understanding it in your own way?” Dench asked. 

Ian McKellan, known for his portrayal of Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings,” had a similar view.

“The audience is warned, ‘there is a loud noise and at one point, there are flashing lights,’ ‘there is reference to smoking,’ ‘there is reference to bereavement’… I like to be surprised by loud noises and outrageous behavior on stage,” he told Sky News

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