The Suitcase and the Segments

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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.

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).