Museums and Heritage Show 2011

Museums and Heritage Show 2011My first gig back at Audiences London (after 9 months on maternity leave…) was at this year’s Museums and Heritage Show at Earl’s Court.  AL was again invited to curate one of the seminar series (making it our third year at the show).  So amongst the giant blow-up frankenstein monsters, a multitude of audio guide providers, interpretation experts and cabinet makers and a frenzy around social media… we offered a tranquil space to think about visitors.

Sarah Boiling and Sangeeta Sathe of South London Gallery talked about the virtues of sustained audience monitoring in the context of the visual arts benchmarking project. Quickly followed up by a focus on segmentation, the driving force for a collaborative project and campaign byLondon’s orchestras to attract those less knowledgeable about classical music.  We then took a quick trip into the world of tourism with highlights from Susanna Mann from the Royal Collection on Group Tour Organisers and Operators.  Another royal connection followed as Helen Ball talked about the FUSE project developed with the Royal Parks to engage young people with the arts organisations surrounding the park. And finally a romp through any other kinds of relationships that organisations had developed a sustained…

Relationship building themes of the day for me were… know your visitors; hand over the reins to your visitors – give them the opportunity to develop ideas and run the show once in a while; collaborate and the return on investment can last for years; and finally keep evolving, don’t stand still… and you’ll  have more engagement, income and happier visitors!

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.

How culture contributes to life in the Capital

London Councils have just published their ‘Playing Their Part: culture and sport’s contribution to local life in the capital’ factsheets. These are free to download and provide good success stories, useful figures and interesting details of how Londoners and London benefit from a vibrant cultural and sporting offer.

AL on MF(A)

The Media Festival Arts which took place on 8-10 September at the Roundhouse, London had a bit of a scattered remit. If it had to do with new media technology and art, in was in. So while a lot of sessions were irrelevant to a lot of delegates (and a lot of delegate-pass swapping took place), there were some gems.

I could only attend half a day, but here’s what caught my attention:

Project Canvas.

  • Intriguing, even though a many organisations seem to have decided to un-like it, or at least are suspicious of its motives and methodology. Maybe it does all boil down to ‘show me the money’? Given that it is a whole new platform and not just a re-flowing of your website content, and given that views will expect a certain quality when they sit in front of their TV screens, who are arts organisations going to afford to create content? Content on this platform will have to be exciting, an ‘event’, something experiential to ‘pull’ people in. We can’t just view it as a form of internet in which just about everything is out there if you search hard enough. But for the like of independent film-makers it has the potential to change the distribution game significantly.
  • On the other hand, should Project Canvas be a place to talk about art – as TV currently is – or to be art?
  • On the other other hand, the Project Canvas set-top boxes will have geo-locators to spot where they are, so producers could tag their content as for local audiences only. Neat, huh? Although I hate to think what MI6 might do with the information!
  • In the first instance, according to new Project Canvas Chair Kip Meek, we should view it as ‘a way of getting your stuff out there to people who wouldn’t otherwise see it.’

Collaborations and partnerships session discussed NT Live, the launch of The Girl Who Played With Fire film and the Last Word Challenge books. What could they teach us?

  • That the NT Live pilot summer brought a 25% increase in audiences over those that attend the South Bank venue. They were rarely totally new to theatre-going, but used it as a way of accessing the National’s performances elsewhere in the country or of trying out new type of plays with relatively low risk. While the NT wanted the ‘sense of occasion’ to emulate that of attending a theatre performance, in fact audiences experienced it as almost a whole new artform; and many felt more emotionally engaged with the performance than those attending the actual live performance.
  • There was a lot that all the collaborators in NT Live learned about establishing which brand values it was important to hang on to in creating the experience, and where they had to adjust to collaborators’ ways of working. For example, the NT wanted to keep the emphasis on the showings being one-off and time-fixed, while deferring to the cinemas’ knowledge of marketing to cinema audiences and how they behave.
  • The collaboration behind the launch of The Girl Who Played With Fire film stressed that the key to success had been to create many ‘touch points’ between the potential audience and the film and to view the film micro-site not as an end in itself but as a springboard for activities such as Facebook campaigns or games through the FindAnyFilm website.
  • The team promoting the Last Word Challenge books stressed the importance of respecting brand values of the New Scientist Magazine, generators of the books and those of the Last Word column in the magazine, which has always been inherently interactive. That enabled them to produce quizzes and challenges that complement rather than replicate the books.

Not for the likes of me

When we introduce the ideas behind audience development, we say ‘imagine what it must be like for people coming to your artform for the first time’ – or better still ‘remember a time when you were fresh to an activity’.  The research project title ‘Not for the like of me’ gets to the heart of the emotional journey many people go through.

It’s quite hard for people working in the arts to imagine being a newcomer to the arts, but last weekend I had that experience for real, and what  an eye-opener it was!

Summer nephew visit #2 involved a 16-year-old football fanatic from rural Lancashire looking forward to his grown-up first trip to the capital. As my conversation about football (even in World Cup year) lasts about 1.5 minutes, I was mightily relieved to learn he has recently taken to poetry, by way of 2pac. I rushed around timeout.com looking for cultural events that might interest him, in my role of cultural ambassador for my provincial relations.

But it was me who got the greatest newcomer vibes.

The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company were performing free at the Southbank, with hip hop artist Akala, MC Marechal from Rio and THSC band. All names utterly unknown to me – my nephew had to give me a running commentary. It was the ‘Shakespeare’ that got me in: much more my sort of thing.

I went through the classic uncertainties that we warn clients to look out for: ‘Do I need to book? How early should I get there to get a place? Will I be bored? Will I look ridiculously out of place as a middle aged white ‘liberal-opinion’? How should I move? Do I really have to whoop and call out – will anyone mind if I don’t? Did anyone spot me frowning when they clapped in between lines of a sonnet?’

And I was grateful for the small familiarities that I could latch on to – it was in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer (having been rained off the terrace): ‘my space’. The stewards on the door didn’t look me up and down as if I had no business being there, but were helpfully directing everyone to the new location in exactly the same way. Some of the rapping, whether of Will S’s own words or the young people’s interpretations of certain plays, was delivered slow enough and with ample dramatic delivery for even my ear to understand. Akala linked the pieces with explanations of what the Hip Hop Shakespeare project was all about and what to listen out for in the next piece.

I came away with the evangelistic enthusiasm that we all hope our new audience members will feel: I had never expected to be so challenged, moved or to experience such a sense of revelation.

Of course, my nephew stayed much cooler throughout – even when getting autographs.

Fed up of tourists getting in your way? Get them in your venue instead!

Our Cultural Tourism event on 25 May is fast approaching and in the lead up to this jam packed programme we’re publishing four FREE resources to give you some top tips and tools for attracting visitors to the capital to your event or venue. That’s over 25 million potential audience members!

This first short how to guide outlines the number of ways in which Visit London can help you signpost your organisation to visitors to London, including useful guides and toolkits, marketing and PR opportunities, editorial and event listings. Download this document from our website here.

Upcoming resources include:

  • Essential facts and figures on London’s cultural tourists.
  • 2012 opportunities for attracting cultural tourists.
  • Glossary of tourism terms

Sign up to our newsletter here to hear about them first. Oh and do come along to the event, we’d be delighted to have you along.

Wish You Were Here… Cultural Tourism for arts and heritage in London
25 May 2010, 10am – 5.30pm
Tate Modern, Starr Auditorium & Foyer
Price: £95.00 +VAT | Early Bird Rate £75.00 +VAT (Book before 6 May)
www.audienceslondon.org/wishyouwerehere
Book your place now