Muybridge at Tate Britain…

For someone who isn’t a fan of horses, murderers or old men with big beards, I found the Eadweard Muybridge exhibition at Tate Britain over the weekend really amazing. I had to keep reminding myself that this mad genius created his art and science over a hundred years ago.

Highlights for me included his panoramic work covering San Francisco, and spotting some of his really random subjects doing really random things (there’s one set of photo’s detailing what Muybridge looked like naked while chopping wood… not a sight for the sqeemish).

This ends on the 16th of this month, and I really think you should check it out before then if you can- he was so ahead of his time!

Audience-focused artistic development

Here at Audiences London we’ve been talking recently about what it means for an arts organisation to adopt an audience focus at its core.

As well as making sure you know and understand your audiences, communicate with them in ways appropriate to the different audience types, are clear and appropriate in your offer and welcoming when people come through the door … what about the nature of what you programme? How do programming decisions take account of what will appeal to your target audiences and draw them into a quality artistic journey with you?

Where are the examples of co-programming or artistic development in collaboration with audiences?

Well, here are two recent examples we know of, coincidentally both from Stratford in East London.

Stratford Circus; audience focused artist development

AcroJou at Stratford Circus

AcroJou at Stratford Circus

Acrojou has been in residence at Stratford Circus, through an award granted by City Circ.  Their aim was to develop a first show for children, with Stratford Circus children’s theatre programme, The Circlets, acting as consultation group with insights into the kind of work these parents and children enjoy.

As part of its support, Stratford Circus introduced the company to local primary, Jenny Hammond School, and Acrojou spent a week getting to know the students. A key goal of the company was for the project to be responsive to its young audience rather than prescriptive: towards the end of the research, gifted and talented students aged 7 – 11 spent an afternoon with the company, who performed and tested three excerpts with the children. 

At the start of the process, Acrojou admitted to some nerves – they had never worked with children before and they were opening themselves up to audience scrutiny and inputs so early in the development process. But the experience was wholly positive, with the children contributing a wealth of ideas and incredibly useful feedback. For Stratford Circus bringing these young artists to the children was rewarding and a great way for the venue to work with and further develop a relationship with one of its local schools and a young audience. 

Acrojou say that their attitude to this kind of collaborative development is very positive and an approach that they would like to continue to use. ‘This project has allowed us not only to develop Waste Time, a new piece of work for an entirely new audience group, but also to really reinvent our creation process as a company. Having the children so involved, and involved so early in the process, was daunting but incredibly valuable, and something that we will continue to incorporate into our working process. It has shaped not only the content of the show but also the type of show that Waste Time will be; the immersive and collaborative factors emerging as key ideas in terms of what excited both us and the children.’

Theatre Royal Stratford East: Open Stage

Over at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Open Stage is asking the public what they would like to see at the venue, from which a group of 25 volunteer programmers will decide on the season programme for January to July 2012. The process is as likely to see brand new work as it is to stage revivals of much-loved shows – the entire process will be ‘up for grabs’:  the programme pattern, the timings and the length of pieces. 

To do this the theatre has begun to build a two-way dialogue with the community. Their reasons are many, but include an ambition to reach, connect and empower new audiences and the wider community; and a recognition that Open Stage extends Theatre Royal Stratford East’s founding philosophy (as the Joan Littlewood Theatre Workshop) of inspiring and being inspired by its audience, a ‘theatre of the people’.  

There’s a sector-wide perspective too: “Despite progress the UK theatre ecology is still far from matching its demographic profile and remains elitist.  Building on Arts Council England’s strategy  “Great Art for Everyone” and political thinking about the empowerment and involvement of communities in the decisions that affect them, Open Stage wants to examine ideas about audiences, art and engagement.”

So far, TRSE with Audiences London’s help has piloted ways of holding these wider conversations – through creating partnerships, collecting first-hand viewpoints from people passing the venues – over half of whom had not been to TRSE before – and testing out with them the kind of questions that will really illuminate what it is to be a theatre that is locally responsive to its audience. The full ‘mass communication’ will start in late January.

If you have other examples of audience involvement in artistic direction – whatever the art form – that you’d like to shout about, do let us know.

Developing mobile phone apps

On 30 November I attended the AMA’s Digital Marketing Day and went to a great session about mobile applications led by @LoicTallon of Pocket Proof, ‘an independent design consultancy specialised in mobile experiences for museums’. You can see Loic’s presentation slides here, but here’s a summary of his key points:

Now that everything is possible thanks to the development of digital technologies, we have to ask ourselves what’s worth doing? Remember it’s not about the technology but the experience that you offer.

Here are some links to examples of good apps:
AMNH explorer
Museum of London streetmuseum
Mercedes Benz Museum
Tate Trumps
Smithsonian Institute

And some bad reviews for the Lonely Planet city guides apps. These were launched as free downloads in response to the volcano crisis back in April – generating lots of good PR at the time, but as they were just the books in mobile application form they were very usuable.

Be aware that what works with one audience may flop with another

To ensure success, define your objectives clearly at the outset and know your target audience. This will help inform your design brief.

Consider the strengths and unique qualities of mobile technology
Don’t just put a book on an app. Think – why mobile? Why not a brochure or an audio guide?
Mobile is good for supplementary information and interactivity
Mobile is:
–          Personal
–          Digital
–          Connected
–          Mobile! But so is a leaflet or a book, so really think about why you are choosing it
–          Interactive

Manage expectations when developing an app and avoid scope shift for your project
Choose the appropriate level of technology for your organisation’s experience, skills and resources

Keep it simple, stupid!
Pocket proof’s industry survey shows that those who aren’t yet using mobile technologies are more ambitious (and unrealistic?!) about how it can be used

Don’t underestimate how big a job content creation can be – plan it in from the start to allow sufficient time and resources

Plan sustainability from the outset too
–          How can you update content?
–          How can you update branding?
–          Can you migrate the experience to new platforms?

Launching your app is not the end. You need to test, evaluate, develop, market it…
Test and evaluate throughout development and implementation, and measure it against the points above – i.e. experience, objectives, audience, expectation, simplicity – not just numbers of downloads. There is no way to track app usage or link to physical venue visits – though you can set up updates and track interactivity.

And finally – Loic thinks it’s easy to attract sponsorship for apps – so if you think this platform is right for your organisation – find a sponsor and get developing!

Creative Clusters

NESTA has published a new report called Creative Clusters and Innovation mapping the UK’s creative hotspots.

It’s an interesting study exploring the role that creative industries play in local and regional innovation and how they can spur economic development outside the creative sector.

The report is accompanied by an interactive online mapping tool which allows you to investigate the hotspots in more detail.

As well as letting you see if your area offers opportunities to learn from and collaborate with other creative businesses, we also know that some of the most avid arts-attending population segments are likely to work in the creative sector themselves … and here’s where they’re based!

This is an example of how it is sometimes interesting to consider how the arts fits into the wider creative sector. It helps us to expand our horizons and think about how the work that we produce is often the result of a whole range of inputs from different suppliers across the creative sector and beyond.

These networks of businesses often cluster together into areas and this is demonstrated in the mapping tool that NESTA has produced.

It is worth noting that this report is about ‘creative industries’, which encompasses quite a wide definition, including a number of areas of which ‘Music and the performing arts’ is just one.

The study shows that while London does take the lead in terms of creative industries there are a number of other clusters that have been identified across Britain. Also, within London there are a number of sub regional clusters.

It also identifies that while creative industries cluster together, there is also a tendency for these areas to be hotbeds for other related industries such as ‘High Tech’ and ‘Knowledge intensive businesses’.

The creative industries sector has been growing year on year and even with the downturn it is predicted to keep growing over the next 5 years.

Orchestral audiences ‘more loyal’ than other artforms

RPO and Julian Lloyd Webber at Cadogan HallWe’ve just issued a press release  letting people know what we’ve found out following a research project with 12 orchestral organisations in London. These are Barbican Centre, BBC Proms, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cadogan Hall, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Southbank Centre.

Among the findings:

  • over the six years, 36% of the households represented went to an orchestral performance more than once, compared to just over 21% of households attending all ticketed artforms in an average year (shown in the ‘Snapshot London Benchmark’);
  • income from the events totalled £35 million, of which some 70% was generated by people who attended more than once – demonstrating the significant value of repeat attenders to the orchestral marketplace;
  • people tend to travel further for orchestral concerts (54.2% came from within 10 miles of the venue compared to 59.1% for Snapshot London Benchmark, while 17.5% came from over 50 miles away compared to 13.8% for Snapshot Benchmark);
  • orchestral audiences are also more likely to book in advance. In each of the time spans of 2-7, 8-14, 15-28 and 29-60 days ahead, orchestral audiences showed a greater tendency to book earlier than the Snapshot London Benchmark. Just 8% of households booked on the day for orchestral concerts compared to 15.7% of households for all artforms in the Benchmark.OAE's Night Shift at the Queen Elizabeth Hall - photo Joe Plommer (all rights reserved)

So there’s potential for the orchestras to improve their long-term position by converting more first- and second-time audience members into frequent attenders – and that’s what the group is moving on to.

You can take a look at the full press release on our website here.

Theatre of Sound

Last week I went to three cultural events which all used the theatricality of sound to various effect.

First up was a trip to The Rose Theatre, Kingston where I caught the end of Filter’s Twelfth Night tour.

The programme notes describe this production as a:

‘radical and riotous interpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night [which] reflects the anarchic energy running throughout the play. With a stage covered in cables, synthesisers, microphones, instruments and amplifiers, Filter creates the world of the play through sound, making the whole experience more akin to a rock concert than classical theatre.’

It was striking to see an audience comprised in the main by two extremes of the age spectrum. There seemed to be equal numbers of young people (of both school, university and graduate/young professional age) and older people (past retirement) with a few children and middle-aged adults mixed in for good measure. I’m guessing the key selling point for the younger audience was that they were studying, or had recently studied Shakespeare or perhaps had heard about Filter’s innovative work before. While I suspect that many of the older audience members were loyal attenders who would have been attracted by anything associated with the RSC (this production was originally commissioned for the Complete Works festival in 06/07).

The other thing that was striking was how the production seem to polarise audience reaction – more so than any other I can remember seeing. As it says in the show programme:

‘ The company are developing a cult status (the Lyric Hammersmith is said to have received more letters of celebration and more letters of complaint than ever before after their Three Sisters). But then experiment is, by its very nature, challenging – and to divide audiences is a great deal better than to leave them numbly non-committal.’

Some people walked out during the show, and I heard others sounding off in the foyer afterwards that they had not liked it one bit. But it seemed the majority had a brilliant time – and it was really great to see so many people deriving such visceral enjoyment from The Bard in 2010.

To return to the programme notes – ‘Filter’s unique collaborative language explores the interaction between sound and music … in a desire to make theatre that truly awakens the imaginative senses of an audience…’  And love it or hate it, you had to acknowledge that the company really did get to the essence of the characters and the spirit of the story, by making  ‘audiences actively participate’ – at point some of us found ourselves involved in a game of ‘Butthead’, dancing a conga line around the theatre, downing shots of tequila and munching on pizza!  

Next up was a visit to Theatre 503 to see Auricular which The Londonist described as a ‘testament to the power of theatrical radio’. This was the latest in a series of ‘immersive audio adventures’, where radio drama was performed live on stage for a theatre audience in ‘an interesting fusion of dramatic media to explore the potential of our aural imagination’. It was fascinating to see a range of scripts brought to life with added visual elements, and to be able to watch the sound effects being made before our very eyes – things that would usually be hidden from view becoming exposed.

And then I rounded things off with One Day – a collaboration between London Sinfonietta and Matthew Herbert, which formed part of the London Jazz Festival. On entering the Royal Festival Hall, we were all handed a copy of the Guardian from 25 September 2010 – the inspiration for this new work. The stage was a hubub of activity throughout the evening – with Matthew mixing samples on a sound desk in front of the Sinfonietta players, a singer, a compere, a foley artist, food being prepared and cooked in a kitchen area, film projections on the back wall, volunteers building and inhabiting a brick house, and a jazz quartet up in the Royal Box. We were encouraged to do the crossword, reference and read various articles in the paper, and use our copies to make paper aeroplanes. At various points we were invited to help make the music  by rubbing our credit cards together (to make a percussive sound) in a piece inspired by an article about finance, and to jangle our house keys (for a piece influenced by an article about property) and then at the end of the evening we all joined in the finale, making music by tearing, blowing, banging and waving our copies of the Guardian. The floor was awash with paper as we left the auditorium… I didn’t envy the poor ushers who had to clear up after us!


Road to Damascus

Just back from an amazing week in Damascus, Syria talking about audience development.

The trip was facilitated  by the British Council and consisted of two days contributing to an international cultural management course  followed  by a lecture at the Damascus Higher Institute for Dramatic Art and a materclass at the Syrian Opera House.

The cultural management course included delegates from Syria, Egypt, Oman, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Algeria, Yemen and Mauritania.  It was a privilege to spend time with these bright, passionate and ambitious  arts workers; to hear about their  achievements and work out how we could apply arts marketing principles to their very different situations (censorship and secret police….). The course took place in the fantastic location of Gallery Mustafa Ali, a traditional Damascene house in the old city,  that is now a sculture gallery, arts venue and simple hotel.    

Above; the first of many delicious meals, breakfast on my first morning, and below;  Gallery Mustafa Ali.

The course is organised by  Al Mawred Al Thaqafy (Culture Resource)  a non-profit organization based in Cairo that  supports artistic creativity and creative exchange in the Arab region. Running since  2006 and previously taking place in Marrakesh, Amman and Algiers, this annual cultural management course for delegates from across the Arab world is always heavily over subscribed.

This is the group at the presentation and party on the last day of the course (apologies its a bit dark, you might be able to just make me out in the centre)

More to follow on other aspects of the trip.