Unrestricted View: Young Vic

By the BTC

Last week we hosted the final of our ‘Unrestricted View’ report-back sessions on our Theatre Spectatorship project – this time at the Young Vic in London. As part of our research, we surveyed and interviewed audiences of three Young Vic shows: The Secret Agent, Happy Days and The Events so we were delighted to be back at the theatre. It was an enjoyable meeting and a good opportunity to share some of our provisional findings with members of the public. Alan Stacey (Executive Director at the Young Vic) and Stacy Coyne (Marketing and Digital Manager) were able to join us and it was useful to hear their responses to our presentation.

We focused some of commentary on audience feedback from the Young Vic. There’s some evidence that spectators at the Young Vic may be slightly more balanced in gender than the other theatres we sampled; they are also strikingly educated, with the majority of our self-selecting sample having a postgraduate qualification – though, of course, this may tell us more about the willingness of postgraduates to complete questionnaires! There are other mitigating factors which need to be factored in: Alan mentioned, quite rightly, that the audience demographic would have been very different if we’d looked at, say, the production of Feast (2013). These sorts of variables are an inevitable feature of audience research and they require us to be cautious in the claims we make about audience constituencies and profiles.

There was a fascinating discussion about how theatre audiences might be engaged more effectively in a long-term conversation about the shows they see. Stacy commented that our project encourages theatres to reflect on how they think of audiences before and after the show, and about how they might foster qualitative discussion with audience members over longer periods of time. The Young Vic has been energetic in engaging audiences in innovative ways across multiple media platforms: for example, they have made a series of films (‘YV Shorts’) to accompany their productions. These are available online to give people who can’t get a ticket an experience and they also foster debate around the show and enhance its topicality (see http://www.youngvic.org/YVshorts). These sorts of initiatives have the potential to transform the ways that spectators engage with productions – and each other.

We were asked a question about the connection between remembering, thinking and value attribution. Do audience members value a piece of theatre more if they have chance to discuss it? Our questionnaires, in encouraging audience reflection before, immediately after and two months after seeing a show, might in fact be doing a job that theatres might want to take on – that is, encouraging on-going thoughts about the theatre. One of our attendees suggested that audiences may want greater ownership of interpretation. The post-show discussion or ‘in conversation’ public platform are the conventional means of engaging an audience in dialogue about what they have experienced in the theatre. But perhaps this format is now too tired, too limited? What other strategies are possible so that reflections can be deepened, shared or sustained over longer periods of time?

All three ‘Unrestricted View’ events – in Stratford, Plymouth and London – have opened up inspiring conversations and insights. They have been very much part of the research process and will inform the completion of our Final Report. Thank you to all who attended these events.