Glowing Up for Going Out:
Going Out as Performance

by Lauren Scaffidi, Philosophy

disco balls

Abstract: “Going out,” here used to refer to a category of activities that includes going to nightclubs, restaurants, and live music, has long been considered an important part of social behavior. A look into the existing discourse on this topic reveals that in both academic works and casual conversation, going out is frequently talked about as a performative activity. However, little research has been done into the question of whether it may actually be considered a kind of performance. A deep dive into this subject may have interesting implications for our broader understanding of going out and its potential aesthetic value. This paper uses existing philosophical frameworks to investigate what exactly performance is and to analyze the ways in which going out differs from traditional theatrical performance. Despite there being some substantive difference, this paper finds that there are instances in which going out does count as a performance. More specifically, it argues that going out is sometimes an improvisational performance. If going out can be an improvisational performance, it seems to be the case that when going out one sometimes aims to display authenticity, creativity, skill, and aesthetic value. This opens the door for further considerations of going out beyond its traditional conception as a primarily social activity.

aesthetics, performance, going out, partying, persona, philosophy

1. Introduction 

Going out is an important aspect of modern social behavior. It serves as a way for people to de-stress, see friends, or explore their artistic interests. “Going out” here is used not in the dating context but rather to refer to a category of activities that includes going to nightclubs, restaurants, and live music or cinema. A look into the existing discourse on this topic reveals that, in academic works and casual discussions, going out is frequently talked about as a performative activity. Understanding whether going out is a kind of performance or just has similarities with performance may be useful to our understanding of going out and its potential aesthetic value. In this paper, I find that under certain circumstances going out can count as a performance. More specifically, I argue that sometimes when going out, one is doing an improvisational performance. In order to demonstrate this, I will discuss Osipovich’s (2006) idea of performance, Cray’s (2019) conception of persona, and Bresnahan’s (2015) idea of improvisational performance. To understand where my argument stems from, we must first analyze some of these apparently performative behaviors associated with going out. 

This phenomenon is demonstrated in Grazian’s (2007) account of the ‘girl hunt.’ He defines girl-hunting as the practice wherein “adolescent heterosexual men aggressively seek out female sexual partners in nightclubs, bars, and other public arenas of commercialized entertainment” (222). Girl-hunting is one of the least successful romantic strategies for young men, yet men continue to engage with it. Girl hunting is “as ritualistic and performative as it is utilitarian” (224). Young men see their male peers as the “intended audience for their displays of sexual reputation and status” (224). During the girl hunt, men demonstrate something to an audience of people. Men may enjoy the performative aspect of the hunt more than the actual potential for sexual or romantic gain. The young men prepare for the girl hunt by curating “a presentation of masculinity that relies on prevailing fashion cues and upper-class taste emulation” (228). 

Kovac & Trussell (2015) consider the phenomenon of women getting together to get ready and pre-drink before going out—the ritual of getting ready (200).1 During this process, women often combine their beautification skills to help each other fit aesthetic ideals. The authors consider the ultimate goal of this ritual to be an alteration in women’s portrayal of self. Though this is a part of the preparation for going out rather than the act of going out itself, in exploring how people prepare for going out they offer insight into the thought process surrounding going out. For example, they suggest that part of the purpose of going to a club for the young women in the study is to fulfill their desire to seek attention from males, who serve as an audience for altered displays of self. 

2. Defining and Understanding Performance 

Looking at these examples, it’s clear why it’s tempting to say there may be something performative about going out. Some may suggest this is just an analogy, but a closer analysis reveals that it may go beyond performativity to potentially being performance. To understand why I find this to be true, we must first define performance. 

I understand performance as a creative, aesthetic activity carried out in front of an audience. By creative I refer to the ability to produce things that are both original and valuable. There have been challenges to this definition, but I find this Kantian understanding of creativity most useful for this discussion. When I discuss an aesthetic element, I am thinking about beauty and related matters. My account is influenced by Wiltsher and Meskin but differs from both accounts. Wiltsher (2016) defined performance as “a creative, artistic activity carried out in front of an audience” (429), which Meskin (2023) amended by removing the artistic precondition (2). I agree with this amendment as it seems true that public speakers, for example, are performers even though they are not necessarily creating art. It does not seem to be the case that every instance of performance is creative either. An instance where someone reads a speech written by someone else to an audience is certainly performance but not necessarily creative. I do find that performance requires an aesthetic element. This is what distinguishes the performance of a street performer from someone idling on the sidewalk. For going out to count as a performance it seems to be true that the person going out must necessarily be performing (displaying something) and there must necessarily be an audience (someone watching). 

The idea that individuals may be showing something when they go out is well established. Whether it be a performance of gender (Grazian 2007) or the ritual of getting ready (Kovac & Trussell 2015) it’s clear that people often display aspects of themselves when going out. Examining similarities between this idea and ideas in traditional performance may reveal more about the connection between performance and going out. To do this, I will begin by looking at Wesley Cray’s (2019) account of popular music performance. 

2a. Persona 

Cray (2019) analyzes how performers use personas. The word “personas” here refers to public personas, defined as “the face, body, and personal history [a performer] presents to the audience” (Bicknell 2015, 43). They serve primarily as a means of communication between performers and their audiences. They tell audiences how to interpret performance. For example, a performer like Nicki Minaj who has personas with distinct personalities may use persona to change the way the audience interprets her performance.

Cray (2019) divides public personas into two categories: “those which are assumed to veridically reflect the singer and those which are not” (181). Those that are assumed to reflect the real character of a performer are called “transparent personas” (Cray 2019, 181). An example of this would be Taylor Swift. Fans of Taylor Swift take her music and performance to be a truthful representation of who she is. Those that are not assumed to truthfully reflect the singer are called “opaque personas” (Cray 2019, 181). An example of this would be Ziggy Stardust. This is one of David Bowie’s personas, and fans of Bowie understand that it was not a real reflection of Bowie as a person. 

It seems to be the case that when going out, one often adopts a persona. Many aspects of going out involve the modification of one’s appearance or behavior to communicate something to an audience. The presentation of beauty during the ritual of getting ready is an example of this. When people use persona while going out they are usually using a transparent persona not disconnected from their authentic self. This is not always the case though. Consider events like a costume party. One may be presenting a completely false self to suit their costume of choice. This could be considered an opaque persona. 

Considering persona reveals some of the similarities between performers and individuals going out. If we apply Cray’s (2019) conception of persona to going out, it satisfies the aesthetic element that must be present in performance. Modifying one’s appearance is an inherently aesthetic action. The originality precondition is satisfied by the fact that each person’s persona is unique to them. Even when one replicates another’s persona, they must do so using themselves as the canvas and thus create something new. Personas are also valuable as they allow one to have experiences they would not be able to otherwise. Consider the notoriously exclusive Berghain club in Berlin, Germany. The use of a carefully crafted persona may earn someone entry, thus granting them an experience they wouldn’t have otherwise. 

On the second necessary condition of having aesthetic elements, personas are inherently aesthetic. Consider someone using a persona to fit in with a group of people unlike themselves. The processes of beautifying oneself or acting in a manner befitting one’s persona are aesthetic actions. Cray (2019) asserts that personas are directly relevant aspects of aesthetic evaluation. Even a persona that is not beautiful in the traditional sense introduces a new aesthetic element to an individual’s experience.

This, however, lacks one necessary precondition of performance—an audience. To address this and better understand if going out can be performance, I will examine David Osipovich’s (2006) theory of theatrical performance. 

2b. Theatrical Performance 

Osipovich (2006) defines performance as an interaction between performers and observers (461). It must have two components to be a theatrical performance: liveness and enactment. Liveness refers to his assertion that performance necessarily involves an interaction between audience and performer. He divides this into three “separate necessary conditions: 1) someone showing, 2) someone watching, and 3) the co-presence of the two” (469). He argues that without this element of interaction, an audience is experiencing something closer to watching television than theatrical performance. 

Going out seems to fit into this definition because it includes interactions between two or more individuals. One cannot go out without at least passively engaging with others. I find that the more significant objection has to do with the distinction between the performer and the audience. 

For going out to be a kind of performance, it must include an audience. Critics of my view may say there is no audience when going out, but I suggest that while audience can vary situationally, one usually has an audience. It may sometimes be true that other individuals serve as the audience. If one is going out to a nightclub they are usually observing and being observed by other people. There are instances where people are not actively watched to a degree that would justify calling others an audience. I would suggest that in instances like that, there are two possible cases. 

  1. Someone may act as their own audience. Osipovich (2006) seems open to this interpretation in his account, giving an example of when vacuuming alone may be seen as a theatrical performance. He asserts that if one is self-conscious of their vacuuming, they are effectively watching themselves vacuum and as such are their own audience. At the cinema, one would be their own audience if they are aware of having chosen something specific to show off to the world—even if the world isn’t watching. The Cray (2019) account demonstrated how one can present a persona while going out, which seems like it would satisfy this idea of presentation. 
  2. They are not going out as a performance. It seems to be intuitively true that going out is not always performance. One example of this would be someone who goes out to watch a movie alone not caring if other people see them. They lack an audience and thus are not performing. I aim to demonstrate that going out can be a performance but certainly not that it always is. 

Enactment refers to Osipovich’s (2006) assertion that in theatrical performance there is a “pretense that the performance is somehow other than itself” (469). For example, one may pretend the performance takes place somewhere else. Both performers and the audience must be aware of the pretense. For going out to count as a theatrical performance both the audience and performers must be made aware that any persona presented is a persona. This is not the case for other kinds of performance. Public speaking, for example, would be considered performance using his conception of liveness but because it lacks enactment it is not theatrical. If one uses a transparent persona while going out, one likely would not want others to know it is inauthentic. This does not fit with our conception of going out. 

This is further demonstrated by the fact that going out seems to lack the foreplanning and rehearsal utilized in theatrical performance. This seems to indicate that if going out is performance, it is not theatrical performance. I believe that it is most like improvisational performance. 

3. Improvisational Performance

I’ve shown going out has potential to be an aesthetic activity carried out in front of an audience. It also seems to involve improvisation. 

According to Bresnahan (2015), improvisation is “spontaneous, unplanned, or otherwise free-ranging creativity” (573). Performances count as improvisations when they “have been produced in a spontaneous, originative way” (573). This seems to apply to going out which lacks the script that is typical of traditional performance. Though there is an extemporaneous nature to improvisational performance, it requires a level of forethought. Improvisational performance must include an awareness of the goals and limits of the work. Specifically, improvisational performance requires “skill, training, planning, limitations, and forethought” (574). Any performer who wants to do a tragic performance requires stylistic awareness to do so effectively. Improvisational performers also require forethought and planning to have the correct tools for their scenes. Simply, “improvisations are ‘fixed’ in advance even if they are not written down” (574). 

Going out also involves a level of forethought (planning, getting ready rituals), and an awareness (understanding one’s intended persona, goals, and limitations) but remains unpredictable on some level. When going out, one often needs to get ready in the correct manner for the occasion. They cannot control what other people wear or how other people behave, which is the unpredictable aspect. However, just as improvisational performers can guess what their audience may want, people going out can predict what they may expect from an outing. In the same way that one can practice but never actually rehearse improvisation, one can prepare for but never totally predict their experience whilst going out. 

Improvisational performance can be done “either by an individual artist or in a collective group” (Bresnahan 2015, 574). Similarly, going out can be experienced as an individual or collective. The individual aspects are obvious—one can go out on their own. Thinking back to the girl hunt, this also illustrates the manner in which it can be a group activity. The men in the boy hunt engaged in going out collectively by getting ready together, being wingmen, and discussing it collectively afterward. Similarly, an improv troupe might prepare for a show together, perform alongside each other, and then rehash it afterward. 

4. Values in Improvisational Performance 

Using Osipovich (2006) to understand performance, Cray (2019) to understand the aesthetic element, and Bresnahan (2015) to understand improvisational performance, it’s obvious that going may count as a performance. More specifically, going out may often be a kind of improvisational performance. Opening up to this possibility of performance provides insight into what elements of going out might be valued outside of traditional social goals. More specifically, looking at the ways that improvisation is analyzed and what is sought after in this kind of performance shines a light on what can be valued when one is going out. 

In general, improvisation is judged based on its perceived authenticity, creativity, aesthetic qualities, and skill. When it comes to improvisational works, “the perceived authenticity of the artist or performer is a good-making feature of performance evaluation” (Bresnahan 2015, 579). What perceived authenticity may look like in the case of going out is similar to what I might call believability. When one is going out and using a persona, how believable that persona is is typically a good-making feature. Creativity may be useful in analyses of those going out as one acting in a notably unoriginal manner may make their performance come off as awkward or inauthentic. The aesthetic qualities are also very relevant when one goes out. All of the empirical examples mentioned include references to aesthetic elements. On a good night out, for example, one may be able to improve their performance by wearing just the right outfit for a specific event. 

Improvisational performance additionally has an aesthetic value that is not typically manifested in non-improvisational work. Hamilton (2000) calls this the “aesthetic of imperfection” (169). He suggests that perfection is not the most important, good-making aesthetic element of improvisational performance. This suggests that it’s better to have an improvisational performance that is less put together but better pleases the audience than a perfectly put-together display that does not successfully read the audience. 

This does not mean, however, that there is no consideration for skill in the evaluation of improvisational performances. It’s self-evident that improvisational performance is judged partially on its skill. Imagine two near-identical improvisational dance performances. They are authentic, creative, and have a distinct aesthetic element. One dancer is much more skilled than the other. In that instance, we seem to know intuitively that that performance is better than the other. From this, it is obvious that skill is a good-making feature in aesthetic performance. A skeptic of my view might say that there is no skill in going out but when you refer back to the empirical examples this is not the case. Consider Grazian’s girl hunt. Grazian (2007) suggests that the successfulness of the hunt relies in part on “a presentation of masculinity that relies on prevailing fashion cues and upper-class taste emulation” (228). This requires skill to pull off. One must be able to pull off the right looks and behavior to be seen as having done well on a night out. 

Understanding that these four elements are what people tend to value in improvisational performance allows us to consider new ways of analyzing going out. Given that going out is sometimes improvisational performance, it follows that there are times when people going out are judged on their perceived authenticity, creativity, aesthetic qualities, and skill. Thinking about going out with this in mind encourages us to think about going out less as a strictly social event and more as a holistic aesthetic endeavor. 

5. Conclusion 

Having shown that going out can be a kind of improvisational performance, it seems to be true that while going out as a performance one aims to display authenticity, creativity, skill, and aesthetic value. These elements are entirely separate from the traditional hedonistic and social goals that tend to be considered within discussions of going out. What we can take away from this is the idea that going out is not always a means to an end but may have important aesthetic value in and of itself. This encourages us to consider what has long been considered a primarily social activity in a new light wherein it has an important aesthetic and philosophical component.


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Cray, Wesley D. “Transparent and Opaque Performance Personas.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 77 no. 2 (2019): 181-191. 

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Hamilton, Andy. “The Art of Improvisation and the Aesthetics of Imperfection.” British Journal of Aesthetics 40 (2000): 168-85. 

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  1. The ritual of getting ready may be undergone by non-women as well, as demonstrated in Grazian 2007, but in Kovac & Trussell 2015 they are concerned specifically with the way young women engage with the practice. ↩︎

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Dr. Aaron Meskin for trusting and supporting me throughout this research journey. Thank you to all of my friends who have unknowingly partied their way into being my inspiration for this research. Thank you to my grandmas for proudly telling their friends their granddaughter studies partying. Oh, and also my mom. Thanks, Mom.

Citation Style: Chicago