Alan Dix, 10 January 2016

There are many kinds of relationships with audiences and to some extent they depend

upon the kind of theatre we are talking about. Small and intimate spaces are able to

promote a sense of shared ownership whereas large scale venues can struggle to

achieve this. The experience for audiences is different but there is a sense that they

are becoming more discriminating with an expectation of better quality theatre.

The boundary between audiences and artists is breaking down. The impact of social

media means that the audience is able to instantly critique a production that then

impacts upon creative decisions. Audiences are now part of the intervention and are

increasingly less passive. The digital realm is enabling to audiences.

Venues increasingly recognise the need for an engaged and collaborative relationship

with audiences. that informs the making of work. The paradigm of an audience

member who buys a ticket and then passively receives the work of the artist is being

replaced by a more nuanced relationship that has many kinds of values - economic -

social - creative - collaborative. Some artistic directors understand this clearly and

work with their audiences in a very different way.

Many examples were used to describe this relationship - from companies that use

build their work through a process of shared exploration to venues that work outside

their building to construct new kinds of creative dialogue with local communities.

There was a recognition that more traditional venues may have a classical relationship

with their audiences that is less productive. This was referred to in a number of ways:

‘patronising’, ‘lack of empathy’, lack of ownership'.

Venues can be public spaces, places where art is made, where the workforce is

visible, where art is encountered and anything could happen. Audience can be offered

an invitation to enter, should not be excluded by the demands of economics (ticket,

bar, restaurant prices), habit or institutional inertia. They shopuld be permeable for

audiences and the people who work in them. Do our theatre buildings militate against

this? Are the fit for purpose? The audience is, after all, the point of what we do.

Examples of good practice include:

Pop up spaces: Trouble at Mill in Farsley Leedsan impromptu venue that offers an

experience that is social, entertaining and creative. Pay what you feel after the event.

The closure of Birmingham Rep resulted in a more active engangement with

audiences through outreach and touring programmes. Re-opening with the library as a

public space has created a more public environment.

Bolton Octagan has a mutually beneficial relationship with a housing association that

brings new audiences to the theatre and creates new kinds of relationships with


Bolton Octagon employed an audience champion in the process of developing its

successful capital bid, thereby placing the audience at the heart of the process. The

‘value proposition’ of the building.

Home in Manchester is a permeable arts centre, a place where people congregate for

many different reasons and experiences.

Cast in Doncaster and Arc in Stockton who actively work with their audiences and

communities in the making of work and the placing of it in ways and spaces that are

relevant, engaging and owned.

Let's create: warmth, that night out feeling, ownership and the kind of creative dialogue

that works for audiences old and new.

As someone said: “I am not just ‘an audience’.”

Let's look at audiences differently and in ways that are relevant to a discerning,

digitally literate and imaginative population.



Audiences, Engagement, creation, audiences, Participation, engagement,

participation, venues, attenders, new ways of working, good practice, Venues