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.

When we ask about your body…

What happens when we ask you about your body?

In this study, A Suitcase of Methods have explored the influence of specific questions on the answers we get from audiences’ about their experiences with performance art. What happens if we ask audiences to take themselves and their bodies as point of departure and answer the question: “Where in your body would you place your experience with the production?”. The study is carried out with inspiration from and in collaboration with Matthew Reason, Professor of Theatre and Performance, York St John University.

See how we methodologically approached this large amount of data, and what we have found so far in our Report #10.

What we get out of watching…

 – Reflection on the qualities and limitations of observations

Dangerous Liaisons. Foto: Costin Radu

Dangerous Liaisons. Foto: Costin Radu

As part of our methodological explorations it seems inevitable to also examine the qualities and limitations of one of the most basic methods within qualitative inquiry – observations. Observations on performance art has obvious limitations especially when carried out on a traditional theatre setup, with the audience placed in a dark auditorium. The elements you would traditionally examine during observations (body language, movements, facial expressions etc.) will in this setup only provide limited information. Nevertheless, we wanted to explore what type of knowledge we could get from this basic method as we tried it on two very different productions: open rehearsals on Dangerous Liaisons (Farlige forbindelser) and the dance performance INTERPASSIVITIES. Read our results and reflections in our Report #9

The joy and discomfort of participation

 – Thoughts and reflections after our seminar

Last week the Suitcase participated and partly hosted a seminar for the network TakePart. The seminar focussed on facilitation and evaluation of artistic participation processes.

The first day of the seminar took place at The Royal Danish Opera. Christina Østerby, Director of Programming, Sales, and Strategic Analytics at The Royal Danish Theatre opened the seminar with a presentation on the institutional perspectives of why we work with participation.

Foto: Christiane Særkjær, workshop with KGL+

Foto: Christiane Særkjær, workshop with KGL+

After this followed a more practical contribution by KGL+, The Royal Danish Theatre’s out-reach department. In a workshop with an opera singer and a pianist, the network group was taken through the different stages of a participation process and felt the reactions and results on our own bodies. This left us more energized and ready for the following mini presentations and group discussions.

The second day took place at The National Gallery of Denmark. Again, the day varied between keynotes, mini-presentations and a workshop with ULK (the museum’s social and creative community for young people). This workshop gave us a break from the slightly more passive listening and ‘forced’ us to engage and participate in solving a problem for ULK (in a creative, deliberately exorbitant, and humorous fashion). See the full seminar programme here.

What did I learn?
What do I take with me and pack in my suitcase after two days of interesting conversations spent in stimulating company? One of the main impressions I’m left with, is that participation processes seem to have an inherent discomfort and awkwardness to them, which makes participants cringe right before engaging. This discomfort stems partly from not knowing what will happen, being unsure of what is expected of you as a participant, or the fear that you will suddenly be the centre of attention instead of the spectator gazing at a subject.
This uneasiness was obvious in both workshops during the seminar. When the opera singer the first day asked us to form a circle around her, you could hear people whisper concerns of having to sing themselves. They did so with a nervous giggle and a bit of anxiety in their voices.

We saw the same reluctance right before the workshop with ULK. Some of us were a bit hesitant going into the process hoping that our poor drawing skills wouldn’t be exposed. However, neither of the workshops turned out to be too anxiety-provoking. During the first workshop for instance we, the participants, moved around the room in different formations and with different speed. During the entire process, we began to inhabit the space in a new way. We became part of what was happening instead of spectators, and with this transformation comes a release of energy and the possibility of establishing a meaningful connection to the other participants, to the process, and to the space.[i]

In this way, the qualities of ‘getting our feet wet’ and being active in a participatory process were confirmed. It seemed to me that both workshops left the group more energized, gave us a sense of togetherness, cleared our minds, and made us ready for the next thing on the agenda that day.

The gap between these qualities and the nervous expectations before participating calls for an increased focus on evaluation of participation (which was the focus of the seminar), as well as a better understanding of the concerns that participants may experience right before engaging in a process. – Concerns that may end up keeping them from engaging at all.
If we learn more about the variety and complexity of this mind set, we may become better at helping participants and audiences in general over the ‘threshold’ to cultural- or art institutions (or to art experiences of any kind), as mentioned in a previous blog post. A continuous curiosity towards participants’ and audiences’ expectations and experiences could leave us better equipped to facilitate both participation processes and cultural experiences in the future.

[i] For more on how we make sensory connections to a space see various work of Dan Ringgaard or cf. the article “Musikalsk stedsans – En undersøgelse af sansernes betydning for etableringen og erfaringen af stedet” in Danish Musicology Online (N. Gram, 2014).

The director’s perspective

The Suitcase has been talking to director and playwright Nikoline Werdelin about working with open rehearsals on her play Stellar Family. We have reflected on the qualities of open rehearsals in our report here

This Friday we visited Nikoline in her beautiful home in Frederiksberg, where we had a talk about the qualities and consequences of open rehearsal from the director’s and the actors’ perspective. As we mention in our report, open rehearsals are a great way of learning more about the audience’s experiences with performance art. It turns out that when the theatre is willing to show the imperfect work in progress, we allow the audience to give answers, thoughts and reflections that are imperfect as well and perhaps expressions of their gut feeling.

However, open rehearsals also affect the creative team on stage in a great way. Nikoline described, for instance that both directors and actors often feel very vulnerable when audiences watch them work during rehearsals. They might be afraid to forget their lines or agreements etc. Therefore, extra nerves during rehearsals are expected.

During our talk the Suitcase was particularly interested in learning how best to communicate the information we get from the audience to the creative team. Nikoline explained, that it depends on how many days there are until the premiere. The more time the team have to consider and perhaps implement elements of the feedback, the more information we can give them. If there are only a couple of days until the premiere, the team are primarily interested in how specific scenes work and if everything is understood correctly. More detailed information is welcome later in the process after the premiere. At this point the director/playwright and the actors are able to take in and consider the more general aspects of the knowledge we have gained. This, however, may differ according to the specific director’s and creative team’s preferences.

Nikoline explains that the rehearsal period on stage is very brief at the Royal Danish Theatre, and therefore it is important that the time on stage is used as wisely and as productively as possible.
It might be some of this urgency that the audience sense during rehearsals, and it could be one of the reasons why open rehearsals often are experienced as particularly intense and present.

The Suitcase still has much more to learn about how best to communicate our knowledge, but this interesting talk gave us a perspective from the other side.

 

Nikoline’s beautiful and very caring dog enjoys the spotlight a bit more than she does. Therefore, he is the model for this blog post.

You can read more about Nikoline Werdelin, her plays, and her drawings here.

Trash & Treasures

– Thoughts the complexity of value

Last week A Suitcase of Methods participated in a seminar on Co-Creation in the network Kvalnet (a network for people working with qualitative methods in different ways). Co-creation refers in this context to the inclusion of individuals in innovation and developmental processes, where the outcome will affect their home- or work life. People are for instance asked to participate in interviews, focus groups, or innovation labs in order to ensure a democratic process of development.

Stine Schulze from MindLab presented an example of co-creation. She described how they worked with young people with mental handicaps to create an environment and a physical space, where this group could get help and support. The young people were included in the innovation process in order to make sure that their specific needs and challenges were considered when deciding what this house should offer.

Anne Vorre Hansen, PhD in Social Science and Business presented another interesting perspective: She talked about the terms value and co-creation and argued that we need to be very specific and deliberate in our use of these words. She refers to Habermas’ distinction between the System and the Lifeworld. The System in this sense is the rational worldview that exists in public and private institutions, whereas the Lifeworld is the world, as the individual perceives it. Value and co-creation are in essence terms that come from the System. They make sense in these spheres and in the logic of the market. Here value is often economical or connected to innovation, development etc. In the Lifeworld however, it is less obvious and explicit what is considered valuable. What is valuable to one individual may be trivial and uninteresting to the next. Anne Vorre Hansen thus points at a field in need of more empirical, qualitative studies.

When we consider this in relation to A Suitcase of Methods and our aim to learn more about the audiences’ experienced relevance with performance art, it becomes clear that we need to always remember that experienced relevance and what is considered a ‘good’ and ‘valuable’ experience is a very individual question. We all react differently to what we experience on stage depending on our current mood, our artistic preferences, the overall atmosphere, etc.

Illustration: Maja Laungaard Andersson

This complexity is a circumstance, which we have to embrace as a quality in our qualitative studies. We collect stories, celebrate (and is sometimes frustrated by) the plurality, and now and again we detect a pattern or a theme in need of further exploration.

 

 

Reading right now #3

On fear of entering cultural institutions

What should I wear? How do I get there? What if I can’t understand the art piece, the play, etc.? Sometimes hesitation and fear in different ways keeps us from entering cultural institutions and experiencing art. In our current A Suitcase of Methods is dwelling a bit on the term “threshold fear”, which describes these kinds of hesitations. Read our reflections on this and on the transformation of the Smithsonian Design Museum, Cooper Hewitt here.