How do we measure the intrinsic value of theatre?

Convener(s):  Cat Loriggio

Participants:   Sophy Jump, Caroline Thompson, Veronica Coburn, Siret Paju, David McGoraty, Michael Spencer, Greg McLaren, Rod and a few others who didn’t leave their names pls add:

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

We looked at what we already had to monitor and evaluate and felt that these were not the most appropriate – either to us or to audiences.  We asked do we only measure these things because we can, because we have the tools and the appropriate language – would ACE and DCMS ask us to measure intrinsic value if they knew how to.  We questioned whether we were playing too nicely with the arts council’s toys just to ensure that we got the money and whether we should be challenging some of the things that we are asked to count and judge ourselves against.  We agreed that with public money came responsibility and that it was only right to be accountable in some way but that the way we were being counted was not right and that it was often and easily manipulated (therefore serving no purpose).  We also talked briefly about how the system was fundamentally ridiculous - how it measures Mela but not carnival – how some art counts and some doesn’t – and how this undervalues some practice in relation to others. And noted that quantity is not necessarily an indicator of impact. 

We struggled with questions such as: How do we develop the tools and the language to measure the intrinsic value? Is the intrinsic value ever going to be measurable?  Does something exist if it can not be measured? 

We looked briefly at the language and the current measures of success used in theatre outside of ACE and other funders ie: Box Office success, Critical Success etc.  We felt that these were too narrow.                                      

We asked why was it important to measure this intrinsic value?  We felt that it was important tool in democratising/politicising critical mass – that most people had a fundamental human desire/need for culture and that this desire needed to be articulated – once people and then the government felt/realised that we wanted theatre (culture) as much as we wanted schools and hospitals then the arts would be funded in a whole new way.  That we wouldn’t have to justify theatre/arts in term of economic value any more – that it would be funded as a basic human need.  Then we could apply for money for creative ideas rather than social cohesion and tourism.  Such a measure would therefore be a very powerful advocacy tool. See the work of John Holden at DEMOS for this theory.

The group also felt that in today’s society everything had to be measured so it would be good to learn to measure the things that were important to us. 

Most importantly we felt that it was the intrinsic value that drove most of to work in theatre and most audiences to come to theatre.  So therefore it should count.

But then just how do we measure this?  Especially as this value could often impact long term as opposed to short term.  Another problem was that responses to work are so personalised that one piece of theatre could simultaneously change one person’s life and bore the pants off another.  The intrinsic value of theatre was different for all of us.

We wondered whether some of the problems that we face are an indicator of the intrinsic value of theatre?  An example was given of how the producers of THE SULTAN’S ELEPHANT struggled with Buckingham Palace – how they were not allowed to produce any photos of the ELEPHANT with the palace in the background?  Was HRH really scared that such a photo could change people’s opinion of the Royal Household?  Does this indicate the power of theatre to change people’s relationship with place, with space, with heritage etc etc?


Possible action points:

We did feel that it was possible to measure growth or expansion of an individual; that this expansion – for example opening of mind or developing of understanding – was measurable.  It was of course not possible to measure the ripple of effect of this.  We felt that it would be possible for practitioners to log their personal experience and that this might be the start of the process – for every one here today to record the value on their lives. In a like fashion this could easily measured with participants of community and interactive work – here the intrinsic value was often one of the main objectives.

Caroline suggested creating a street show that could measure the intrinsic value of theatre.  Cat spoke to her after the session about how this might become a reality – ie Cat commissioning it for touring in 2008.  We liked the idea of creative ways of measuring, such as Dave Gorman’s equations of happiness.

After the session Cat spoke with Greg who is part of ROBOTSHOW at BAC – 12 – 14 Feb. During this show the audience will have a polygraph attached to their finger which will gauge excitement, arousal, nervousness, embarrassment.  Greg also gave the example of Thrill Lab at the Science Museum which, measured how thrilled participants of a rollercoaster ride had been.

There was a terrific example of a company who worked with older people who did actually count the number of minutes the audience smiled for.  May be this could be developed?

We felt that we should be creating our own critical discourse.  That the language of the critics helps to maintain the status quo – that theirs was an intellectual and rarely emotional response.  That they were mostly Oxbridge educated old men. That they rarely included the response/experience of the audience as a whole.  This critical measure was a distraction.  That critics did not know how to review work like THE SULTANS ELEPHANT either highlights that they are not able to articulate the intrinsic value or that they prefer to denigrate mass response/collective experience.  We also acknowledged that word of mouth was the best way to sell a play.  A website was suggested - MY THEATRE SPACE where people could review work (which would act as one measure), where they could log the intrinsic value of a piece of work on them, where they could create MY THEATRE FRIENDS and so on.  We felt generally that theatre practitioners did not make the most effective use of the web.

We decided that it would be good for practitioners to measure the value of their work on them – that they should develop tools such as this for their own reflective learning. 

We looked at the semantics of criticism and suggest that we reclaim certain words such as entertainment – to acknowledge that a challenging or harrowing night out was still entertainment.  We need to be sure that we know what we mean by A GOOD NIGHT OUT.  We wanted care to be exercised between measuring value and making value judgements and acknowledged that a very clear criteria needed to be created to measure against.  Some suggestions came out of a discussion about what makes good theatre – it was tough question to answer but responses included: enrichment, expansive, shared experience, understanding, humanity.

We thought it would be good to talk to scientists or psychologists – they probably would know how to measure this value but artists probably never would.  There was an anxiety that this might lead to ACE 2037 making us act out shows under laboratory conditions before agreeing to funding. 

We were recommended a website highlighting the theories of Ken Wilber – he suggests there is a way of producing such a measure through his aqal model which implies a measurable level of human value/experience based on a quadrant highlighting introverted and extroverted objectivity and subjectivity.

Could arts mark schools measure the impact of theatre on their pupils long term?

Bhutan measures levels of happiness against GNP – could we find out how and replicate this system?