Exciting projects outside the Suitcase

The Suitcase often stumbles upon interesting and inspiring projects from other theatres or cultural institutions. We therefore thought it would be a good idea to share these projects in a new mini-series on the blog called ‘Exciting projects outside the Suitcase’. As always, we are very interested in hearing from you. If you have any recommendations for interesting projects, please leave a comment below.

Not surprisingly, we are particularly interested in projects working to generate or communicate knowledge about art, culture, audiences, and audience experiences.
The Royal Shakespeare Company in collaboration with the research organization Ipsos MORI are currently working on a project with these characteristics called ‘Project Titus’. They are exploring the difference between experiencing a live performance and watching a production on a cinema screen, and they do so by tracking the heart rates of two groups of audiences. The first group watches the production “Titus Andronicus” in the theatre, and the second group watches a live transmission on a screen in a cinema.

After the performance, the audience were interviewed about their experience and they answered specific questions on a mobile app.

The results are not ready yet. Becky Loftus (head of audience insight at The Royal Shakespeare Company) describes the immediate insights:

The results won’t be available for some time as there is a lot for the data scientists to explore. At first glance, some people’s heart rates seemed to rise in anticipation of something happening rather than the event itself. Some elements (such as a sudden loud gunshot) might cause one type of reaction due to physiological changes as adrenaline floods the body, but others were more drawn out and linked with the strength of empathy with a character, such as the scene when Titus sees his brutalised daughter for the first time. It all comes down to the fight or flight reaction we have and there is a lot of that in Titus. (Becky Loftus, 2017: “Project Titus: Measuring the Heart Rate of Audience Members at Shakespeare’s Bloodiest Play”).

It will be interesting to see what The Royal Shakespeare Company will learn from of the experiment. In the Suitcase we find this next phase particularly interesting and challenging. It is a difficult process to go from complex data to clear conclusions (without simplifying the insights too much), and further to identify what these conclusions and the new knowledge may mean for the way we think about and develop theatre and cinema. We will follow the development of the project.

Sign up for a conference about the “Cultures of Participation”

As mentioned before the Suitcase of Methods is part of the network TakePart, which studies and discusses participation within art and culture. The activities of this network is coming to an end, and 18-20April  2018 we are marking this with the international conference ”Cultures of Participation – Arts, Digital Media and Politics”.

The conference contains three tracks and themes:

Theme 1: Participatory art and aesthetics
Theme 2: Digital media and technology
Theme 3: Cultural policy and participation
We have three interesting keynotes confirmed: Shannon Jackson, José van Dijck, and Lisanne Gibson.

Read more about the conference and sign up here.

Reading right now #4

By Astrid Holm and Nina Gram

When the Suitcase asks audiences about their experiences we indirectly touch on fundamental questions about relevance and value within the fields of art and culture. At the moment, we are therefore preoccupied with the recent publication by Professor Trine Bille “The value of culture, art and theatre”.
So much so that Caroline Tindborg and Astrid Holm from the Royal Danish Theatre has created a power point extracting and presenting the most relevant points, thus making the material even easier to digest.

Immerse yourself in the Prezi power point here
(in Danish).

The most relevant points in the report:

The Report “The value of culture, art and theatre” was requested by the common organization of Danish theatres “Danske Teatres Fællesorganisation”. In the study, Trine Bille gives an overview of relevant research on the question of value in relation to culture, art and theatre. She for instance presents different understandings of the concepts of art and culture. She sees culture as a sector within which art is defined in different genres, such as visual arts, performing arts, music, literature, etc. The cultural sector itself consists of cultural institutions, organizations and people working with these genres.

An interesting element in Billes report is her work on the effect of art. She presents a so called “effect chain”, which makes it possible to examine the output of the art (e.g. sale), the outcome (impact on individual level) and the impact (impact on society level). According to Bille it may be an advantage to dive more into the effects at the individual level. When we relate the work of The Suitcase of Methods to this chain, it becomes obvious that we primarily focus on “the outcome” and the individual level. What is interesting is how we can move from having data and knowledge on this level to understanding how this individual impact affects us on a more basic society level – Bille’s last link in the chain.

Bille’s study is interesting because it may help provide a “common language” and point of departure for these questions of value of art and culture. Bille underlines the importance of understanding different perspective in this discussion in order to be able to communicate about these complex issues. For example, as a cultural institution, we must be aware of our own understanding of the value and quality of art – and the politicians understanding of it.

In addition, she also discusses the concept of value. According to Bille, art and culture include cultural values, which include strengthening the cohesion of society and the development of new communities. The problem with this value is that it is difficult to detect and quantify. In addition, art and culture can also create narrow economic value, as they contribute to jobs, sales and exports. Combining these two values gives the total value for art and culture. Because the politicians often focus on measurements and involve them in the decision-making, Bille advise the cultural sector to focus on cultural and non-marketable values.

You can find more information in our presentation here or in Trine Bille’s full report. Both are in Danish.


The Suitcase and the Segments


As described earlier A Suitcase of Methods is part of a mixed methods-setup at The Royal Danish Theatre where we continuously gather large amounts of both qualitative and quantitative information. As an appendix to this ongoing collective and analytical work with information, we carried out a brand reputation analysis in the summer of 2016 in collaboration with the research and data analytics firm YouGov. In our report #12 we give a brief insight into how we work with these segments and how this big data fits with the thick data produced by A Suitcase of Methods.

Find the report #12 The Suitcase and the Segments here.


Systemic evaluation- what we do and what we learn

“Ballet as ballet was and should be”

“It was a pleasure to the eyes the majestic production that accompanied the beautiful voice and melodious music. Keep it up with the edgy Danish creativeness”

“It was foolish…I wasn’t moved by it”

Every day The Royal Danish Theatre receives feedback from audiences through ratings, evaluations, and descriptions of their experience with the theatre. In our 11th report, we describe this evaluative work and reflect on the potential and the challenges that comes with all this data.

Read report #11 Systemic evaluation – what we do and what we learn here.

Open rehearsal as a “theatre teaser”

”I will definitely watch this again!”

I heard this comment from almost every audience I talked to yesterday after our open rehearsal on “I run” – a play that premieres October 5th 2017.

Yesterday we invited audiences from the Royal Danish Theatre’s panel to watch a rehearsal on this production based on the blog I Run (Jeg løber) by Anders Legarth Schmidt and written for theatre by Line Mørkeby. The audience watched the first 25 minutes of the play. Hereafter, they had a chance to talk to the team behind the production in a Q and A.

About the play
Anders starts running one hour after his six-year-old daughter, who has been suffering from cancer, has been taken off life-support. Amidst the grief, loss and feelings of unfairness, running becomes the one place, where he feels light, free and strong. Where he can breathe, and where he may still be able to feel close to his dead daughter. The piece opens up for questions of how you survive the loss of a child. I run is about running. But it is also about being helpless in the face of illness, and about the roles of death and grief in a society.


Summing up what we saw
Open rehearsals usually leave us with many various impressions about the production, the audience, the reactions and experiences, and various methodological reflections. This time is no different. However, in this brief post we focus on our main question for this rehearsal: What does the audience need and want after an intense experience like this?

We expected to hear either that people wanted to be left alone, or that they really needed to talk and digest their experience with others.

We indirectly saw both tendencies. About half of the group left right after the rehearsal and didn’t stay for the coffee and conversations afterwards. This must be an indirect way of communicating that they did not want to talk to strangers after an experience like this. The other half were happy to share their experience with their companion as well as with strangers. Several of them specifically said it was nice to have the opportunity to vent this experience.

However, one ‘need’ did seem stronger than either of these ways of digesting the art experience. Everyone we talked to were excited to have the chance to talk to the creative team about the production and their experience. They both wanted to share how they felt, but they were also very interested in learning more about the details of the production and the rehearsal process – how the actor had trained for the part, what the thoughts were behind the scenography, what was meant with a name of one of the characters etc. We saw that this layer of information added something extraordinary to their experience.

Methodologically, this way of only showing the audience the first part of a play and thus giving them a good idea of the story, the setting etc. but keeping the ending a mystery seems to be a good way of creating a ‘teaser’ – something that creates great incentive to buy a ticket to go see the entire play.

As mentioned these open rehearsals seem to be a great way of establishing and maintaining a relationship with your audience. The next challenge is to make sure that we see a variety of audience members to these events, so we relate to as many people as possible.

The Suitcase on Evaluation Seminar II

Well, what does evaluation have to do with our work in the Suitcase? We do exploratory methodological work with audience experiences and we are by no means interested in evaluating the art. Instead, we study the effect of the art experience and from this perspective we can learn tips and tricks from the field of evaluation.

Furthermore, it is our impression that when we look to other professions and see how they work with various types of experiences, we are able to look at our own processes, and perhaps become aware of some of our own blind spots. When comparing our practice to others’ we naturally start a reflection on what we do, and how and why we do it. And if we are lucky we may even be inspired to try something we would otherwise never have thought to do.

Who did we meet and what did we learn?

At the seminar hosted by Danish Evaluation Society (Dansk Evalueringsselskab) we were surrounded by people (primarily from consultant companies or various municipalities) working specifically with evaluation of different project primarily in the public sector. Their approach and challenges were in many ways different from the ones we face when trying to explore the nature and value of art experiences.

Nevertheless, there were central themes and concerns that we have in common:

For instance, “giving back”. Across the different fields represented in this seminar it was evident that citizens, users, audiences, or guests – whoever you are working with – like to feel that their feedback matters and makes a difference. The institutions have to give back to the individuals in one way or another and provide them with knowledge for their evaluation.

Another discussion revolved around the paradox between the necessity of a clear evaluation question (what do we want to know something about?) and the possibility of innovation (perhaps we don’t know beforehand what questions will be relevant to focus on). Of course it varies from project to project how structured a process and evaluation has to be, but it became obvious that the Suitcase’s exploratory approach to information gathering is very privileged and it allows us to sometimes get side tracked, to make mistakes, AND to figure out what makes the audience respond and relate in an interview situation.

So, as I am leaving the seminar and waiting for the train I wonder if these insights I take with me are a bit sugar coated and simplified – like a pretty rainbow with no real treasure at the end. Perhaps this seminar was an example of a side track. Still, by placing the Suitcase in the midst of people who evaluate processes and initiatives from our everyday lives (residential accomodation, education reforms etc.), it accentuates yet again, that art experiences are something out of the ordinary. That is exactly why we – when exploring these experiences – have to turn to methods that are extraordinary.