How can we help the press help us develop audiences for contemporary theatre?


Convener(s): Matt Burman

Participants: David Rosenberg, Jane Edwardes, Kirstie McKenzie, Eva Liparova, Siret Paju, Lian Bell, Hazel Maddocks, Sally Marie, Shelley Silas, James Stenhouse, Cheryl Pierce, Claire Soper, Simon Beford, Rhiannan Armstrong, David McGroarty

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Matt asked for creative suggestions and ideas to help the press in helping us develop audiences for contemporary theatre, a broad term encompassing theatre, performance/live art outside the mainstream.

Perhaps it would be interesting/useful to meet a group of interested (or those who should be more interested) writers/critics to talk about the work during the making process (for those who devise work).

We should learn to talk more clearly about the work, to better describe the work. This could be developed through simply talking to more people about the work in a general way. Perhaps the Americans are better at this than us as they are more used to pitching projects face to face rather than in writing.

The Critics Circle meets every two months and sometimes invites writers to come to talk to them. Perhaps companies could build on this idea and instigate their own meetings with theatre writers/critics.

There is a difference between writing about the show (a review) and writing more generally about the work / theatre. A review might not be improved through meeting with the company but broader reaching articles could be facilitated.

The critic/theatre writer has three functions; previewing, reviewing and influencing the audience/public, inspiring them to see (or not) shows. It’s the more general arts writers who might want to write about ‘bigger’ issues.

Young people in particular are engaging with a broader range of media, particularly the web, when looking for information about what to see. There is no longer a dependence on traditional print based media. This is an exciting opportunity for contemporary theatre to get information to new audiences about new work.

It is perhaps a more marginalised press who are interested in contemporary theatre; how can we de-marginalise them?

Publications have limited space, resources and writers and a large amount and a broad spectrum of work to write about. There will always have to be decisions made about what and what not to cover.

Shows/projects with shorter runs will rarely get reviewed, particularly in London.

In order to get writers to travel outside London more artists/companies should look at developing festivals and hubs where writers could see more work in one visit to make travelling more attractive and ‘better value’.

Would defining contemporary theatre help the audience/reader make decisions about what to go and see. In London does the West End/commercial, Off West End/subsidised and Fringe/profit share (!) categorisations help or hinder?

Word of mouth is often more important to getting an audience as the press. There is though still a certain dependence on the press particularly in engaging with an older audience and in supporting applications for funding.

It is often hard to talk to the press, but they don’t bite and people shouldn’t be afraid of contacting them directly with invites and to talk about the work. However the work should speak for itself. The writer shouldn’t have the artist’s own interpretation in mind when reviewing the show.

KultureFlash is very good at picking up on interesting new work and does strive to attract new audiences interested in a range of different work across the arts.

As suggested in the last D&D and in the sessions on Saturday on criticism, a creative solution would be to set up a website on which audience members could post reviews. Isn’t it time someone developed/produced this site? With the development in social networking and peer to peer sites, and a shift in online use/culture over the last 12 months (Web 2.0) this is much more feasible and workable a solution now. There are good examples of this type of site in other art forms (Drowned in Sound and Pitchfork for example).

The press will still have an interpretive role separate to this and a critic or critical consensus will still have (for the time being) an influence on whether or not someone chooses to see a piece of work. In that way it still has a role in developing new audiences.

All online editions of newspapers should have the facility to allow users to respond/add/object to reviews.

Theatre audiences are just as web literate as people interested in music; why aren’t there more sites/outlets on line for information for them.

Are contemporary theatre audiences less interested in press than in other methods of getting info or hearing about new work? Perhaps, but the mainstream broadsheet press is still key in communicating with a more mature audience.

It’s a good idea to have a long term 12-18 month press strategy and talk to writers early in that strategy to help build longer stories.

How can we help regional press? They have a very strong (sometimes quite conservative) view of their readership and they rarely interested in contemporary work. A local angle often helps encourage them to cover work.

Give good images. Photo opportunities are useful and previews can sometimes be on the strength of good photos.

A key conclusion is that the print press has limited space but online media doesn’t have this restriction. We should develop, and encourage venues and the press to add to their own sites, more online spaces of encounter and discussion, of specific work and theatre in the broadest sense.  Broadening the range and number of voices talking about theatre is vital to developing audiences.


Added: Critics need to spend time with practitioners to understand process 

ISAN help a critical discourse event for practitioners and critics- they would be happy to sare info on this as it was most helpful.