Friday, 20 March 2015

Theatre Thoughts: Arts Funding

Thinking about Theatre...

I was told by a contact a couple of months ago that one of the reasons new writing flourished in the mid-nineties was due to massive amounts of government investment in the arts, for companies and theatres to help produce and promote new works. I've been desperately trying to find figures for this but had no success so far - can anyone help?!

What I have found, though, has been interesting: the two images below show the GVA of the Creative Industries. (GVA stands for Gross Value Added, and means the measure of the value of the goods and services produced in an industry or sector) 'Music and the Visual & Performing Arts' is the fifth most valuable resource in this sector, in the chart shown below from 2007, which, given we were in the middle of the recession at that time, is pretty good going, and is only topped by output that can be consumed in our homes (TV, Radio, Computer Games, etc...)


Source: gov.co.uk

This second image is from a similar report, published in January 2015, showing the same GVA and their contributions between 2008-2013. While the same sector does not have the same impact as, say, IT, we can still see that there is a massive contribution to the economy through these areas (Music, Visual & Performing Arts)

Source: gov.co.uk

With the recent announcement of the final Budget before the General Election stating that an extra £8.9million will be given to the cultural industries across Britain (if the Conservatives win! Labour are apparently planning cuts to the arts budget!) this can only help artists and the economy. In my opinion it's not enough, but hey ho, we're trying to reduce the deficit, so fair enough!

Now what I need is to know how much the government has spent on the arts. If they are giving an extra £8.9million, what is this on top of? How much, during their time in government, have they spent on the arts and culture (not including the Olympics - I realised during my research that this was going to skew the results hugely!), and specifically Theatres.

I also want to know how much the government spent during the 1990's on arts and culture, compared with today. If, as my source suggested, there were huge boosts to new writing producing theatres during the '90's, it begs the question then, "why, during this time of recession and austerity, is new writing still so popular?"

P.S. Thank you to Sarah Dunn for the links to these documents!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Task 6b: Critical Reflection on Tools of Inquiry

I read through Reader 6 several times, and used my journal to jot down notes and ideas as I went along.

I came to the conclusion that the best tools for me to use during my inquiry were 'Interviews' and 'Surveys & Questionnaires'

INTERVIEWS

Interviews can cover a range of subjects, and I think this is the best initial research tool for me to use as participants responses can lead to other questions or conversations rather than being held back by a formulated questioning pattern.

The time-consuming element does not worry me as my research will be taking place at the theatre I am working at, so it will become part of my work-day, with support from the General Manager.

I will have to be careful when composing the opening or initial questions. For example, I had a particularly strong response to a production I saw recently, and while I was thinking of questions I could ask regarding that play, one of them was "Does this make you think differently about the ways in which we present ourselves to other people." In conversation with my professional network, it was revealed that each of us had read something different into the play and I was the only one who saw it as a revelation of 'the self', and the dichotomy of what is true and what is not, when presenting ourselves to others. I also read it as an analogy for Social Media and the ways in which we can make ourselves and our lives appear more interesting or flattering.

In the informal trials I am planning with my network I will test out opening questions to see which lead to the most interesting and relevant results.

OBSERVATIONS

I don't feel that this method of research will be relevant to my inquiry, however I did find the discussion interesting from an ethical point of view.

The benefit of observation, acting as a 'disinterested observer' as the Reader suggests, is that it is possible to witness unbiased behaviour and responses. It is also useful to observe groups in an interpersonal situation.

However, the ethical dimension of this is what made me think: ethically the participants should be informed that they are being studied as part of a research topic, however this overt statement could lead to a change in behaviour which would obviously influence the outcome. It made me think of instances of scientific research where participants were told the study was in one area, when they were actually being observed for something completely different. Now this is unethical, to my thinking as participants should have the right to know what they are taking part in, and could feel exploited if prior permissions weren't sought, or if they feel they would have declined from the observed behaviour had they known they were being studied. Alternatively, knowing the desired outcome of a study, or even the area of a study, can make participants more aware of their behaviour and responses in this respect which would create biased results.

FOCUS GROUPS

I did consider this as a tool of inquiry for my research as it would be interesting to discuss a range of opinions and thoughts at any one time. As mentioned above, when I discussed my response to a recent production with my professional network, I had taken a very different message from the piece when compared to others in the group.

However, I decided against this method due to the comparative difficulty in assembling a random selection of audience members post-show: given the environment of the theatre I feel it would be a more constructive use of my time to interview individuals and couples.

Having said that, I discovered recently that later in the year several productions may consider Audience Q&A sessions post-show, which would be an interesting environment to cover. I am intending to speak with the Artistic Director regarding this to offer my assistance setting these up (as this is one of the things an institutional dramaturg often participates in!)

SURVEYS & QUESTIONNAIRES

While I was considering the tools of inquiry, I realised that I may need to use Surveys and Questionnaires as a secondary research method.

The potential of this tool, for me, is to follow up interesting responses at a later time. If an audience member has a particularly strong reaction to a production, it would be useful for me to contact them, say, six weeks later, to see whether the impact of the production has made any significant changes to their outlook or lifestyle, as I discussed in a previous blog.

While the survey can potentially be limited in depth of responses, I would tailor each questionnaire to the individual's original response. This will be slightly time-consuming however I will only be using this in selected cases and each questionnaire will follow a similar pattern, based on the original line of questioning. The Reader suggested that there was a comparatively low response rate to surveys that were sent out indiscriminately, but those presented face-to-face, or personally, had a much higher rate of engagement, so I feel that individual questions based on a "In your interview you mentioned that you...." style, will have a greater impact and therefore a greater chance of receiving a response.


Task 6a (Part Two): Planning an Informal Trial

After reading and reviewing Reader Six, and reflecting on the various tools presented for research, I have decided to plan an Informal Trial with my professional network using the Interview method, as this is the main research method I intend to use throughout the inquiry and the method I have the least experience of, so naturally need the most practice at!

Image Source: gettyimages.com

I feel that depending on the particular production, the opening questions may differ slightly. For example, a play that has been on recently at the theatre I am interning at has been on the subject of intensive chicken farming (sounds strange, I know, but it's been very popular and got great reviews!): if I was using this play as a research subject my opening question would be along the lines of; "After seeing this production, what are your feelings towards your own eating and shopping habits?" Possible responses that I would predict to this question could vary from; "Nothing, it was just an evening out at the theatre for me." to "It's made me change the way I think about my shopping and I'm going to make an effort to avoid cheap meat in the future." In this second case, I would potentially follow up the interview with a questionnaire a couple of weeks further down the line to determine whether this participant had actually made active changes in their habits as a result of the production, or if it was simply a spontaneous response to a hard-hitting subject that actually didn't have much impact after the occasion.

I intend to plan a series of open, but focused questions; questions that permit more than a 'yes or no' response, but are focused towards the specific production that has been seen. Obviously not all plays are going to carry such a strong message, so this stage will be determined by the programmed season at the theatre during the inquiry process.

After speaking with my professional network, they have agreed to inform me of any plays they are going to see in the near future so that I can plan a time to conduct an interview with them.


Monday, 16 March 2015

Task 6a (Part One): Review of Reader 6

After going through the Reader several times I ended up with twelve pages of notes, so it's certainly given me some interesting food for thought and reflection!

"The lines of inquiry or topic area that you will investigate should extend your understanding about professional activities (paid or unpaid) now or for the future... There might also be implications to consider for your employer, community of practice, and your professional networks..." (READER 6, P.4, 2013-14)

The implications of research into audience reaction may lead to affect future programming decisions, and aid the ability of the theatres to better understand audience tastes and predictors of future behaviour. I believe it will also be of use to playwrights and directors in enabling them to understand the outcome of their work and decisions.

"Practitioner enquiry involves capturing evidence from the workplace using social science research tools, or methods, that allow you to use real-life experiences and phenomena in a systematic and ethical manner." (READER 6, P.4, 2013-14)

 - Self Discovery
 - Obtain Practice Based Knowledge
 - Understanding related to other professionals in your field
 - Should act to inform your professional practice
 - Make choices and decisions

Image Source: unictrading.com

The Reader advises that we think about the complete process of the inquiry early on, so that we are able to plan the most efficient ways of collecting information and the presentation of our findings.

How is professional enquiry similar to other professional activity in which you are involved? Do you search and review sources from literature, gathering information for decision making? Do you collect points of view in order to have a balanced viewpoint from which to make decisions?
How is it different?
Professional enquiry is the process of learning in the workplace, so in this respect I feel as though I am always learning at work; however the artefact will be solid evidence of this process rather then the empirical evidence of being able to do my job better!
I feel as though I tend to use a combination of both literature sources and points of view to make decisions: I love using books, documents and online resources to gather information on subjects, which I then discuss within my professional and personal network, to learn other theories and discuss thoughts. 
I tend to base decisions on conclusions reached through these two methods.

The newest addition to my library!
Image Source: bloomsbury.com


Depending on the subject of the inquiry, being an insider-researcher could possibly raise ethical issues and conflicts of interest. This is something I intend to raise with the Artistic Director of the theatre I am working at, and with any professionals involved in the productions I will be using as part of the study.

CONSIDER WHO MIGHT ALLOW OR BLOCK YOUR INQUIRY
At the moment I can't see why anyone associated with the inquiry would block the research process as I believe it will carry some value to playwrights, directors and programmers as I intend my investigation to aid understanding about the reactions of their target audiences to the plays being written, produced and presented.

Know the context: being an insider-researcher raises issues of objectivity and subjectivity. Identifying and describing the culture of the workplace culture can be an important part of the inquiry:
I believe that because the theatre I am working at is dedicated to producing new works, challenging works, and revivals of forgotten or contentious plays, the theatre will be open to obtaining audience feedback to these productions. However I may encounter the belief that all works will affect an audience; that people are more likely to state they have been affected or 'changed' by a work because it has been 'shocking' or provocative, due to the nature of the theatre and their repertoire.

  • Who in your inquiry environment can you elicit support from? Who will receive a report? What purpose do you intend it to serve? What are the expectations/constraints of the audience?
    The General Manager of the venue has agreed to let me conduct my research through the theatre, and will provide a signature on my Employer Support Form. I will also need to seek support and permission from the Artistic Director of the theatre.
    I will also seek support from the playwrights, actors and producer of the plays that will be taking place while I conduct my research. If there are objections from a particular group (i.e. the writer of a particular play may not wish to have their work implicated.) I will seek support from the alternative production as there are always at least two productions running concurrently at the venue.
    The report will be made available to all those involved in the research: participants will have my contact details and can request access to their information at any time.
  • What is your own position as an insider researcher?I am currently working as an intern at the theatre. The program for all interns covers a month of assisting in all aspects of the day-to-day running of the theatre, including box office, cleaning, show set-up and breakdown, etc. After a month there is the opportunity to specialise in an area, for example, with the administration, the literary team etc. I have only been at the theatre for a couple of weeks so I haven't specialised yet, however I am intending to work my way around a couple of different departments, especially the production elements and literary department. I believe these departments will offer me the best insights into the career areas I want to pursue.
  • What are the important considerations about the people and the culture of the organisation that you work in that the audience for your inquiry need to know about?The Finborough Theatre is dedicated to producing new works and revivals of classic or 'lost' plays and musicals. It is important that this is emphasised in order to prepare the inquiry audience that the productions investigated are not pitched at being commercial or necessarily accessible to everyone's tastes.
    The audiences for the plays will know this and be aware of the content of the work through the booking procedure, however those who may read the report afterwards will need to be made aware of the content of the productions referred to in order to make the reactions and responses make sense.
  • Have you discussed this with your SIG and your professional network?I intend to discuss this further with those who also work and volunteer at The Finborough in order to further determine the culture of the organisation and help me to formulate my thought processes regarding the transparency of the presentation of this.
___________________________________________

Image Source: jagranjosh.com

Given the nature of my inquiry, and the environment it will be taking place in, I have decided to make use of two of the tools discussed in the Reader: Interviews and Questionnaires.

 INTERVIEWS

The reader points out the following benefits of interviews:
  • Qualitative
  • Can follow up on ideas
  • Probe responses
  • Investigate motives and feelings
  • Can ask 'why' questions directly to people who have knowledge, experience and perceptions about your topic (playwrights, directors, producers, etc)
  • Questioning or discussing ideas with people
  • What data do you need to collect to answer your research questions that may only be provided by other people?
    No 'data' as such – but recording audience responses is central to my inquiry subject, therefore the questions of response can only be answered by other people.
  • Who do you need to interview and why?
    I aim to interview a cross-section of audience members regarding their reactions to a selection of plays.
    I also intend to interview the director and producers, and, if possible, the playwright of particular productions to gauge their expectations or intended audience response to see whether the supposition and the actuality correspond.
  • Where would be most appropriate to hold the interview – neutral ground or home ground?
    I will be holding interviews in the bar of the theatre post-performance. As I am looking for, in the first instance, immediate reaction and response I would prefer to be on hand as the audiences are relaxing after the show, at a time when they are most likely to want to discuss the subject matter and the production is still fresh in their minds.
  • At what point in the research process would it be best to interview?
    I will need to interview early on in the research process, beginning with playwrights, directors and producers. This will then be collated with audience responses and will be dictated by the particular productions that are either in-residence or are forthcoming to the theatre.
  • What questions need to be asked?
    I am working on a series of questions based on my inquiry subject to determine the most appropriate wording and order of questioning to gain the most response. These will be discussed and trialled with my professional network during the pilot interview stage.
  • The degree of structure in the interview – structured, semi-structured or unstructured?
    At this point I feel that I will be following a semi-structured pattern for the interviews: I am aiming to develop a couple of 'opening' questions and base the following conversations on the initial responses of the participants and their willingness to elaborate on the original questioning process.
  • Whether all the interviews will include the same questions and follow the same structure. If not, why not?
    All interviews will follow the same semi-structured pattern, however the follow-up questions may differ depending on the initial reactions of the person being interviewed and the path the interview takes.
  • How are you going to record the interview – whether to make notes during the interview or use a tape recorder and transcribe notes afterwards?
    I intend to record the interview on video-camera: as I will be working in a possibly very noisy environment when speaking with audience members, I believe I will find it most useful to have both audio and visual records of the interviews.
  • How are you going to access the data from the interview – transcribe tape recordings, order and/or reflect on your written notes?
    I will watch the interviews back and transcribe what I believe to be important elements of the interview. These elements may include responses that I feel correspond with other elements of the enquiry, or contradict previous findings as both sets of response will be equally valid.
  • How will you ensure that you comply with ethical and confidentiality issues and relevant legislation such as the Data Protection Act? What is the status of what is said, i.e. is everything on the record?
    Everything said will be 'on the record' through the audio-visual medium I will be using. However I will only transcribe those elements relevant to the enquiry. In order to comply with ethical and legal considerations I have created a consent form that covers the use of the data and information, for each participant to sign. This will carry information on the use of image and information, and will also carry my personal contact information in order for the participants to be able to contact me at any point to view their interview or read the results of the inquiry.
* * *
  • What preparation do you need to do for your 'pilot' interview?
    In order to prepare for the pilot interviews that I am planning to conduct amongst my professional network, I will need to compile and trial a list of questions to determine which line of questioning yields the best results. I will also need to familiarise myself with interview techniques and methods of eliciting information in an ethical and appropriate manner.
  • What is your rationale for choosing a particular type of interview?
    I am intending my interview to be semi-structured, with a couple of opening questions designed to lead the participant to conversation regarding their reactions. I am choosing this method as each response will be different and naturally lead to alternative following questions.
  • Have you done a 'covering information sheet' explaining the enquiry and will you require consent forms?
    I have created consent forms that will be finalised in content prior to beginning my enquiry. These will be trialled and formalised after the pilot interviews and discussions with my SIG and with Paula.

The Reader suggests grouping or coding the data, using thematic categories, as grouping data helps identify common themes: "Organised in this way so that comparisons, contrasts and insights can be made that interpret the meaning of the evidence." (READER 6, P.4, 2013-14

After considering this section of the Reader, I will be transcribing the interview data, focusing on sections that are relevant and appropriate to the inquiry, and I shall keep the data stored on a memory stick that will remain in a safe place throughout the inquiry process.

Image Source: oasishr.com

SURVEYS AND QUESTIONNAIRES
  • gather data from a wide range of representative respondents
  • able to research large numbers of people
  • can be limited in terms of depth but make up for it in breadth or range
  • ease of use
The Reader advises us to devise precise written questions, and to expect "...approximately a 20% response rate from a postal questionnaire and 50% from face-to-face delivery, [although] in work-based research the insider-researcher may be well placed to ensure a good response rate." (READER 6, P.4, 2013-14)
  • Questions need to be composed carefully and their positioning and layout in the printed questionnaire should be designed with the audience in mind.
The Reader suggests the the combination of using Questionnaires that are then followed up with interviews. However I am intending to do this the opposite way! My initial data gathering will be taken in the form of recorded interviews. Once I have transcribed the interviews, I may decide to follow up interesting responses in the form of a questionnaire. If this becomes the case, the transcript and the questionnaire will be stored together with a data-capture number, in order to enable cross-checking later in the inquiry process.

__________________________________________

When analysing documents for the Literature Review, the Reader recommends considering many elements:


The analysis of documents can include reports, reviews, government documents, correspondence, policy reviews, etc... I will make use of this during the inquiry process, both to determine other points of view or studies that have been conducted (and I have begun this already), but I also intend to cross-reference audience response with critical response:
  • What documents will help you understand your topic better?
    At this stage I am not sure of any specific documents I might need, however I have used Summon to locate articles regarding audience surveys and I will post a literature review on these shortly. I will also make use of critical reviews of the plays I am investigating as it will be useful to see whether a theatre critics assessment of a production is the same as the 'layman' audience members – one of the major criticisms of 'criticism' (as mentioned in one of the books I read for my literature review, and elaborated on through conversations with my SIG) is that a theatre critic necessarily brings a bias to a production that may not be that of the average viewer.

  • What permission will you need to examine the document?
    At this stage I think that any documents I may need to examine will be in the public domain, either online or in print, so no permissions would be needed.
  • Can you plan this stage into your enquiry plan?
    I intend to complete my literature review and assessment prior to beginning the enquiry, and access any production reviews on an ongoing basis, based on the productions used for the enquiry and availability of publicly published reviews.
Image Source: forensicdocumentexaminerdenver.com

"The analysis of your data will normally be against the original aims, objectives and research questions set within the terms of reference of your inquiry and reflect the current state of knowledge about your enquiry topic emerging from your literature review." (READER 6, P.4, 2013-14)

The interpretation of documents involves looking at the results to identify and trends, patterns or differences and offering an explanation for them.


Image Source: supplychain247.com

CONCLUSION
  • What have you accomplished and where do you need to go from here?
    I have begun to formulate a more solid process to determine how best to carry out the professional inquiry, looking at a combination of research methods and tools to decide which may yield the most accurate results.
    I need to now begin to trial the intended interview process among my professional network, to determine the validity of the process, and work on formulating my inquiry plan for submission.
  • Have you developed a plan that sets out what you will be doing for Module 3 to explore your topic and to link this thinking back to your professional role?
    I have started to reflect on the procedures that I might use, and the best combination of tools discussed during the reader. The inquiry plan is still in the early development stages but using my journal and through conversations with my SIG and professional network I have started to formulate more concrete ideas and plans.








References
BAPP Arts: 'Principles of Professional Inquiry' WBS 3630 (Module 2) READER 6, 2013-14

Monday, 9 March 2015

Conversations (Part One)

I had an interesting, brief conversation yesterday while I was standing at the Box Office of the theatre I am interning at, that made me even more excited about my inquiry.

Image Source: theguardian.com

One of the patrons had attended both plays that were showing at the theatre yesterday, (I think she was a theatre critic, and she was something to do with an awards ceremony), and as she left I asked her whether she had enjoyed her day.

She responded positively, especially regarding the second of the two productions, telling me that she was going to contact the theatre critic of a major national newspaper to tell him to review the show as she felt it was something very important that needed to be transmitted to a wider audience, and that she would be recommending to her contacts that the play transferred to a larger theatre after their initial run.

Since I am intending to look at audience reactions to new works, this would have been a very useful conversation to pursue longer! She believed that the play carried a strong message and it would have been interesting to find out what she thought the impact could be, beyond the stage.

Image Source: isaiahhankel.com

This is, however, something that I have read about in one of my literature sources, and it is an interesting angle: theatre critics are, by their nature, very invested in the art form and have a lot of knowledge and experience of live performance. Therefore this would mean that they are viewing a piece differently from the 'layman' audience member who has visited for some other purpose rather than writing a review.

Within my SIG there has been a thread of discussion regarding arts criticism, with one critic stating that they feel they are never fully immersed in a production as they are always thinking about the review, coming up with lines or descriptions to use. For an audience member with no agenda, how are they going to react to a performance that carries a strong message or call for change? This is what I am interested in finding out more about.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Task 5d: Ethical Dimensions of Inquiry

I have been talking non-stop to anyone who'll listen about my intended inquiry, and have brought up the issue of Ethical Practice with my professional network. We have discussed it at length and the following is my conclusion on the best way to ensure adherence to ethical standards.

One dimension I am proposing for my inquiry is audience interviews. Post-show I would like to be able to conduct interviews with audience members, asking a series of questions regarding their engagement with the production: their initial thoughts and reactions, immediately after the moment of viewing.

Image Source: mrmediatraining.com

I also intend to speak with theatre directors, producers and playwrights, to determine the level of engagement they may expect from a play or production, to see whether the actual level of engagement, or the interpretation of a play by the audience, is what was expected. This will be interesting as audiences bring their own experience and bias to a show, so the message received by one viewer may be completely different to another.

For this I have created consent forms for the participants to sign, with my contact details and the details of my inquiry clearly printed, so that those I speak to are actively aware of ways in which their information will be used. A copy of this form will be kept by both parties (myself and the participant) in order to follow ethical practice.

First Draft of Consent Form

The information will be stored safely: hard-copy consent forms will be kept in a folder, and any audio-visual information will be stored on a memory stick or external hard-drive that will remain with the hard-copy information at all times. Until such time as may become necessary, the information will not leave the safe location in order to ensure privacy at all stages of the enquiry process.

I am currently doing an internship at The Finborough Theatre, and have been given permission to carry out my research at this location. This will be shown on my Employer Support form and at all stages I will comply with the rules, regulations and standards of the theatre's code of conduct.


Monday, 2 March 2015

New Adventures

I am so excited! I've started an internship at the Finborough Theatre in London!

Image Source: finboroughtheatre.co.uk

The Finborough is well known for producing challenging new work and revivals of 'forgotten' classics (for example, this season includes the newly written play 'Chicken Dust' and a staging of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Princess Ida'): one of the interns has come across from Hungary specifically for the experience! I knew the internship program was popular but I didn't realise quite how far-reaching this small theatre's influence was, so I feel very, very lucky to have been offered this chance.

I had the interview last week and I started there yesterday: I was plunged straight into the action by having large chicken coops thrust upon me as I walked through the door, and helped set up the opening night of the new play: I was helping on tickets and with other odd jobs that popped up (who knew a Chinese take-away would save the day?!) and was a little bit exhausted when I finished.

I will be there for two days each week to coincide with the days off from my full-time job, which works out perfectly (sleep is overrated anyway!).

The benefit of working for the Finborough will be immeasurable as I spoke about my inquiry proposal during the interview and was told I would be able to use the theatre as a base for my research: as I am intending to look into the effect of new writing and new theatre, this is absolutely the best place for me to be and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to both improve my experience of working in theatre and to conduct my research.