what might be exciting about making work with/for museum visitors?

Convener(s):  Sarah Punshon

Participants: Ellis Kerkhoven, James Hadley, Joanne Hartley, Nathan Curry, Tiphaine, Mary Swan, Dodger Phillips, Roses Urquhurt, Sarah Corbett, Isabel Carr, Malwina Chabocka, Gary Horsman, and others…


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

Quite a lot of specific projects mentioned / described:

Sarah Punshon’s Natural History Museum projects (forthcoming); Ellis Kerkhoven’s possible British Museum musical for children; Tangled Feet’s Croyden Clock Tower project (14-16 March); Sarah Corbett’s experiences working as an Explainer at the NHM and current experiences at Museum of London; Emily Chapstick’s workshops at various museums; Proteus Theatre’s current project at a living history museum; and many more.


Big questions & issues:

Museums often want to cordon off a corner, or put a show in an auditorium – controlled, much more manageable.  But why turn a bit of a museum into a theatre?  How might we make work in the gallery spaces?  How to deal with huge practical issues?

Interaction / overlap between Interpreters/Explainers and actors – what does each do best?  NB Money: museums often don’t have much.  Linked issue: volunteers often do a lot of interpretation.

International Museum Theatre Alliance – should we all join that and make it better?

Individual passions – engaging people with small stories, specificity.  Sharing a passion, live, in person, is incredibly engaging.

The Object is central.  Can we turn the objects into celebrities by putting them into a show?  Objects have been touched by the living – who, why?  When we touch them now, what do we do with them?  Investigate!

Museums finding it hard to trust / understand artistic / theatrical approaches.  An artistic project unlikely to connect with everyone – museums v worried – want everything to be accessible to everyone.

The power of the curator: expert knowledge is what’s valued – temples of expertise.  Is it only valuable if it gets across “facts”?  Many (most?) visitors want factual content too.

Ownership.  Is a visitor’s interpretation as valid as the expert’s?  If a kid in Investigate at the NHM examines a bone and decides it’s from an elephant, and actually it’s from a fish, is that valid?  Do we need to ‘correct’ them?

What about fakes?  The Museum of Jurassic Technology – a fake museum, curated by a man taking it completely seriously. Or Movieplex by Nutkhut – a fake museum about a man who never existed. 

An experience like “The Unbelievable Truth” – a red herring in each gallery room – find the “fact” that’s actually wrong. 

Capturing the imagination: unexpected enhancements of emotional reactions.  Cabinets of wonders.  Power of the imagination: Night at the Museum surely influential in so many London museums now having sleepovers and lates.  Ditto Doctor Who – capture imagination and we want to find out facts.

What do visitors come to the museum feeling passionate about already?  Example of elderly museum visitors to a 1950s reconstruction, putting a gramophone record on and dancing.  How to encourage more of this?  How to document this?

Invisible theatre: performers as visitors, commenting loudly on all objects, playing with ignorance – gathering a following.

What about visitors as performers?  Moving through spaces – eg Mike Nelson show at Tate, moving through “taxi waiting rooms” – apparently getting lost and ending up “backstage”.  Going to secret, backstage places would be really exciting in a museum!

Choices: most museums are too big to see all of – how can visitors choose an exciting route through a museum?  Adventures, discovery, track down an object that’s been part of a performance?

Bringing things to a museum – perhaps swapping it for something already there.  Geocache-ing.

Breathing life into things, creating an atmosphere – these are things theatre/actors are good at doing.