Exciting projects outside the Suitcase II

It is time for the second exciting project outside the Suitcase.

We have heard it before: Communication is key! One of the things the Suitcase is very preoccupied with at the moment is how best to communicate what we do and what we learn. We have our reports, our shorter blog posts, the small videos etc., but we are still debating how best to reach practitioners, decision makers and researchers all at the same time.

Today’s exciting project is an example of a very inspiring and talented communication of how art experiences affect us and how our brains react when exposed to art.

The Washington Post released in September 2017 an interactive article that uses beautiful video footage and music from the ballet Swan Lake to illustrate one important point: “When we experience art, we feel connected to something larger”.

The article explains (through words and moving images) how we are neurologically wired for social connection and that “social connection is a key function of our brains […] Our brains like to share emotions with others. This is just one reason that seeing a live performance — a concert, play, opera, etc. — is a neural rush.

The article further explains how watching physical movement affect us:

The brain is highly stimulated by motion, body language, facial expression, gestures — all the motor perceptions that could affect survival and our success in social settings […] But we’re not only visually pulled to the movements of others. We feel them, in some small way, in our bodies. When we watch a dancer spring across the stage, we may experience a little internal hippity-hop, too.

Find more arguments for why “the logic of art is a neural turn-on” in the article here. In terms of communication, the remarkable detail of this article is that the readers experience in their brains and bodies exactly what is described in the text as they read and watch it. We learn that different movements affect us in certain ways. And as we learn this, we watch an example of a movement, and to some degree, we have the described reaction. We are cognitively learning and physically experiencing the message all at the same time – Brilliant!

Read (and experience) the article here.

Connecting through pulse



A sneek peak of our latest workshop

One of the Suitcase’s main interest points is the questions of connection and relation between the artists on stage and the audiences in the auditorium. In a series of workshops, we are exploring how digital technology can help to establish that connection.

Read our entire report about our work with the pulsating heart here.




Piles of pens, paper, and candy…

Companion survey I. 

The Suitcase is going back to basics in a current project we call ‘Companion survey’. We are placing small questionnaires, a pencil, and a candy on each seat at four of The Royal Danish Theatre’s stages, three nights on each stage. That means we potentially reach up to 10.000 audiences.

Why are we doing this?

This traditional survey may seem like a very old-fashioned way of exploring the audience’s experiences. However, being part of a ‘Mixed methods’ setup at The Royal Danish Theatre, the work of the Suitcase aims to contribute to creating a broader insight into our audience and their experience with performance art. In this project, we are testing the validity of our traditional online surveys (which are described more here). These online surveys measure the experience of the ticket purchasers, but they do not give us any information about the dates, friends, and families they bring with them to the theatre.

In this companion survey, we test whether the companions are similar to the ticket purchasers when it comes to age, gender, and how they rate a performance and the overall experience in the theatre.

See how it looked as we set up for this large survey:

This project is in many ways very simple – pens, paper – a classic physical questionnaire. However, carrying out this simple idea involves quite a bit of detailed planning. We will follow up with thoughts on the process of this work in a later blog post.

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 #14 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 report #14 The Suitcase and the Segments here.