Max Barton, 28 January 2015

Douglas, Jenny Dewar, Sian Rees, Rosanna Lowton, Sophia Sibthorpe, Kevin Shen,

Sarah Dean, Dean Rodgers, Rachael, Chris Harrison, Charlie + many more who

popped in or didn’t put their names on the list at the end.

This was a thrilling conversation, that has led to some great action points moving

forwards. The opening provocation was that almost every session I have been to at

D&D has at some point landed on Audience (with a capital A) - how they decide what

to see, what excites them, who they are, how involved should they be etc etc. Many of

these have been extremely productive sessions, but I can’t help always feeling that

there is a missing voice (or many missing voices I suppose) in the discussion, and that

we can convince ourselves that we are thinking on behalf of the ‘audience’, despite the

fact that we are a very narrow slice of the potential demographic. My suggestion was

to hold an event (or series of events), where a broad and diverse group of people are

brought together to open space about theatre, with the balance tipped in favour of the

‘non-industry’ attendants.

*I want to add briefly at the beginning that the following day I took part in an open

space event at the BAC about Backstage in Biscuit Land - here in a session about

relaxed/extra-live performances, we talked a lot more about new ways of defining who

an audience is and how they are encouraged/enabled to watch shows - this discussion

could and should very much be part of the larger topic moving forwards.*

Interestingly the conversation opened with the potential pitfalls and barriers in putting

on such an event. Kevin Shen dropped by fleetingly to share that he had spoken to

someone the day before who had turned up to the event as someone not involved in

theatre at all, and that they had felt snubbed all day and not come back. A similar story

was shared at the closing circle on Monday by Chris Grady. One caveat being that

three (all lawyers interestingly) other people I know of turned up and had amazing

experiences, feeling very welcome throughout *which can also be said of the BIBL

open space I went to incidentally*.

This was then followed by a frank and insightful breakdown from Sarah Dean at

Improbable who has thought and talked about such an event in the past - Sarah

shared her concerns that the format of open space is potentially pretty intimidating and

frankly just scary for a large number of people. This was echoed by some other

members of the group, who expressed the feeling that theatre makers are particularly

confident people but often they find it hard at first (particularly members of the industry

who work behind the scenes).

The first suggestions that came out of this part of the conversation centred around the

idea of starting small, and tactically, involving venues talking to their own audience

groups, or putting their current audiences forwards for a locally held open space. This

certainly still forms part of our plan that shaped later on, but there was (and still is) a

concern that, those who already attend specific theatres loyally aren’t quite the broad

group we are hoping to talk to in depth, and that these events on their own might close

off swathes of smaller companies and theatre makers from being part of the

discussion.

Chris Grady was a wonderful voice in this discussion, pointing out that the open

spaces that work are the ones which centre on a specific community/subject of which

everybody present feels a part. Hence there is a fundamental motivation for people to

take part in the discussion. This led to further feeling that for the event to be

successful perhaps it would need to take part in a specific location, or concern

something quite specific to its members.

Some discussion took place at this point about ways of altering open space

technology to make non-theatre makers feel comfortable - however, a shared feeling

led by Chris was that open space should be trusted, given how elegant a format it is.

That being said, some very subtle and clever ways of helping people embrace that

technology came up later. These included ways of aiding the potentially scary milling

period at the beginning, by giving people some kind of sticker that identifies a group of

which they are now a part, so that smaller groups can be explained the technology

before being brought together into the big circle (this would ideally be in addition to the

fact that several members from a ‘community’ would be invited together, so that each

person arriving now belongs to two communities within the larger meeting and doesn’t

feel isolated). There was also a suggestion that the talking stick could help ‘control’

voices that might over-dominate in specific sessions.

Chris shared one more concern which was that perhaps one of our main aims is to

make work that surprises people, so finding out what they want isn’t necessarily the

best way forwards.* This was recognised as more cause for thinking very hard about

what the overall question of the event might be. Finding out specifically what

audiences want isn’t necessarily that useful, but part of the whole joy of open space

seems to be that it brings our very rich and complex conversations, and I can’t help

personally feeling that an open space event is likely to give a much more

comprehensive insight into how to tempt people to see more work and feel less

intimidated by theatre than the questionnaires and surveys that regional venues are

asked to take out. Here Southampton’s recent survey was brought up, which was

apparently very depressing but perhaps was giving very knee jerk and shallow

responses to some fairly closed questions about what an audience wants.

Chris brought up his Hitometer around this point, which gathers together 7 features

that make up a hit (not all 7 are required). Here are the 7 for those who were curious!

1 Title – It should be already known to the audience or at least feel very familiar.

2 Star – A big-name actor, playwright or director whose association builds confidence.

3 Company – Ditto, a well known and respected company (i.e. the National Theatre)

builds confidence.

4 Uplifting – The audience have an expectation of leaving with a positive emotional

feeling.

5 Spectacular/Epic/Surprising – By its nature or scale, it gets talked about, and makes

me want to talk about it when I see it.

6 Archetypal/Universal – The story or message resonates deeply with the audience.

7 Good – Hard work pays off with high quality that the audience can see and

appreciate.

Given that apparently the average person goes to 2 arts events per year, including

cinema (thanks to Sarah for this statistic) - it seems crucial that a more in depth

conversation takes place to find out how we can change that.

*Again I can’t help strongly thinking of the next day’s open space here - I believe and

hope Maddy Costa will be publicly writing up some of the thoughts, but a big one was

about trying to relax the way people think about being in an audience. Encourage

people to have fun again, and embrace the liveness, however serious the piece - this

could have far-reaching effects, partly for audience members who currently require

relaxed performances due to disabilities, but more broadly those from cultural

backgrounds that find sitting silently uncomfortable.*

Some of the questions asked for the next bit of the discussion sort of need the D&D to

answer them, so I won’t discuss them in detail here. Theses included questions like:

Should we change the perception of the work or the work itself? How cost effects an

audience desire to come (some interesting thoughts about cost not being the barrier

we think it is, but rather the outreach that goes with it).

Jake Orr’s initiative to discuss with audiences (and without theatre makers) after

shows was brought up here, which has been an excellent move in this direction, but of

course can’t include those who aren’t currently going to the theatre.

It was about this point when the whole group really decided the events were

necessary, and began formulating ideas. This started with a question about how it

could be funded (given that we as theatre makers are all happy to pay for D&D

because we benefit from it, whereas perhaps audience members wouldn’t feel like

that). The idea of an open space + FESTIVAL was brought up,. IE performances, food

and drink as well as discussion. Making it an immersive experience, and using our

skills as theatre makers to curate the event was key to the discussion.

However, what felt more crucial was the idea of making people feel safe, on the same

level as anyone else (particularly the theatre makers there), and not making it feel like

there are two distinct types of people at the event but rather so many types that there

is only one, as it were.

So we talked about a rota for any theatre makers there to be part of a welcoming

committee, and more to the point everyone taking the responsibility to not let the

opening feel cliquey - to talk to people standing on their own.

Here the invitation and the question became the most crucial thing to sort out. People

would have to know why and how they were there when arriving. At some point it was

suggested that theatre shouldn’t be in the question, but maybe art should. However,

on reflection since I feel that this might be a mistake, and broaden the discussion too

much, but to use the word theatre in the questions talked about here are some

thoughts that were put forward:

Why have theatre?

How can we make theatre for people who would rather watch Taken 3?

Should we just stop making theatre?

Is theatre pointless?

But since the other D&D I put forward a new one:

Devoted and Disgruntled: What is a theatre audience?

The action points:

I will collaborate with D&D to talk about moving forwards with these, and welcome any

thought anyone has at [email protected]om. We think we will probably try to organise

satellite events around the country, perhaps hosted by (but not at!) regional theatres,

and then organise a nationwide event where a certain amount of places are given to

each satellite event to fill.

Tags:

extra-live, D&D, Audiences, survey, Audience, outreach, Relaxed, audiences,

attendance, demographic, audience, Regional, relaxed, regional, satellite