After I spoke on Skype with Paula last week, I feel a little bit stuck as she wasn't too sure about the ethics of the way I was hoping to carry out the Inquiry.
I have spoken at length with my professional network and SIG about this, and wanted to find out other people's opinions as well.
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Basically, I was planning on conducting Audience Interviews, in the bar, post show, using a video camera. My reasons for this are as follows:
* I don't want to pre-prep the audience, or ask for volunteers, as I believe there is a certain 'type' of person who likes to volunteer their opinion and I am much more interested in the effect of the play rather than what people may have thought about it. It is similar to my response to an art-work that I spoke about in a previous blog. I don't care whether they liked the play or not; I want to know what they took from it.
This is one of the main sticking points of the ethics, I think: the issue of non-consent. I have created consent forms for the participants to sign, which contains full details of my inquiry and how their information will be used. I will guarantee anonymity and the forms will have my contact details shown clearly so the participants can, at any time, request access to their information or ask that it be deleted.
My approach will be polite and professional, asking people whether I could ask them a few questions regarding the production they've just seen, and if they say yes I shall ask if they mind if I video the interview, explaining why I am doing it this way.
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* There is nowhere else in the building for me to be able to conduct the interviews; the theatre room itself is closed post-performance for cleaning and re-set or to set up the next show (there are always two productions on rotation at the theatre) So I can't ask people to stay behind in the auditorium itself.
I think one of the ethical issues of this is to do with the involvement of alcohol in the area I would be interviewing subjects. However I would consciously avoid those who appeared to be drunk or past the point of making sense, and I would hope that, as the audience will have just left the auditorium having seen a play, that they wouldn't be completely inebriated at the time of interview!
I raised this issue with the Artistic Director of the theatre and he said that often groups of people would congregate in the bar to discuss the play (he mentioned one incident where two groups ended up in a heated argument over the indirect message of the particular production, leading to a very interesting debate that the writer and director also joined in on as they too were staying behind after the play!) He felt that people would be more willing to discuss my topic with me in an informal setting (the bar) and wouldn't feel so pressured into thinking that they had to volunteer an opinion.
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* I want to use interviews rather than questionnaires as questionnaires are pre-set. I intended to use an open interview technique, using one of a variety of opening questions that would be dictated by the production (such as 'Was there anything about this play that you feel particularly strongly about?' or 'Was there a particular message you took away from this production') then form my following questions based on their response to this.
The issue of this might be that the audience member has NO response to the play or has taken no message from it. However I still don't want to use questionnaires as the interview technique will enable 'discussion' as opposed to 'response.'
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* I was intending to use a video camera to record the interviews: the environment of the bar may be noisy, in which case I will be able to *see* what the subject is saying, as opposed to a dictaphone which may not give the best sound quality. It is also for me to observe non-verbal responses. I don't want to take notes as, again, if the bar is busy I may not have anywhere to lean to write, or I might miss something, misquote the subject or forget to write a response. The camera will be used for my reference only, to transcribe the interview from, accurately.
I thought about the ethics of this, and Paula, and a couple of members of my SIG also mentioned that people may not be comfortable on camera. I do understand this, and have created consent forms that will detail exactly how the information will be used and stored. The forms also contain my contact information so the participants can email me to request access to their interview videos, and can also ask me to delete anything they are not happy with. Beyond the use of the video for transcription, their information will not be seen by anyone and will not be used for any other purpose.
I have seen others at the theatre conducting audience interviews this way; for a previous production they had a video camera set up in the corner of the bar, post show, and asked among the patrons for people who would be willing to answer a few questions to camera about the production. I don't know what the purpose of this was, but I am aware that this has been done.
So those, I think, are the main objections and my reasons for the methods of conduct. What do you think? I'd love to get other opinions or suggestions.