I decided recently that I would like to look at the impact that new theatre and new writing has on both audience engagement and the wider theatrical landscape. I 'want to find out' *why* new writing and new theatre is so popular, why so many people are taking risks going to see new work, and whether the ideas posed in challenging new work actually have an impact on the audiences who view it. When I talk about New Theatre, I'm referring to newly written or newly produced works, as well as modern adaptations of classic texts (such as the adaptation of Othello I saw last month), and new concepts in theatre like Immersive Theatre (such as those produced by Punchdrunk)
I framed the working title as: "The Impact of New Theatre on Audience Engagement and the Wider Theatrical Landscape"
The sub-questions I have for this are:
* Why does New Theatre continue to be popular?
In the early '90s the government supplied huge subsidies to theatres to produce work by new writers. My theory for this is that the country was experiencing a huge economic boom: with increased spending comes confidence; increased confidence leads to increased national pride and therefore the drive to create a national 'voice' through theatre. (This is similar to the first Dramaturg, Gotthold Lessing, who was hired by the very first National Theatre of Germany in the 1700's!) However, we have now come out of one of the longest recessions in living history and theatres are no longer receiving the support they once did (For example, the Finborough Theatre, one of the UK's foremost new-works theatres, is completely unsubsidised), so why is risky, controversial, new work still so popular?
I will research this in conversation with audience members, to find out why they decided to come to see *this* particular production: what was it that made them want to see this play. I believe that for the most part they will have some sort of affinity with the subject of the plot which made them interested to see it depicted on stage.
I will also research the history of government funding for arts establishments to see whether there is a solid historical link between funding and new productions: I initially believe that this will be so, as I believe that theatres will have been more willing to take risks in these environments. However what I want to know is why new writing continues to be popular despite cuts in funding. I will do this through interviews with playwrights and theatrical producers, who hold responsibility for the programming of theatre seasons.
Image Source: holoweb.net
* What does New Writing do for audience engagement?
I had an interesting discussion over the last week, where it was suggested that new playwrights were often writing more for their own conceit: I used the example of a play being produced in London in the forthcoming Spring 2015 season that exposes the 'realities' of the poultry trade. The playwright is obviously hoping to incite some sort of change by creating a story around the brutality of the cheap meat industry, but will it actually have that effect? How many of the audience will actually think twice or change their shopping habits after witnessing the play? This is just one example I could think of off the top of my head, and shows what I mean by 'audience engagement with the play'.
I will also look at elements of advertising and social media, showing the ways in which audiences engage with productions both before and after the experience (tweeting about being at the theatre, for example, or a facebook post regarding the show)
I intend to do this through the same post-show interview questions mentioned above. I intend to find out whether the play has made the audience members think differently about an aspect of their lives, or whether the production has had an impact on them beyond the stage. I will also collate this with interviews with playwrights to determine whether the messages received by an audience are those that were initially intended when writing the play.
I suspect that audiences will initially have many reactions to a particularly provocative piece of theatre, and that work intended to incite a change may resonate beyond the world of the play. However I doubt that many audience members will make active changes to their routine simply because of it! Many historical theatre theorists have talked about the power of theatre to incite social change, however how effective is it in our modern world? Is it just entertainment and are we too saturated with shocking images every day for a play to have much impact?
Image Source: abc.net.au
* How is New Theatre changing the landscape of UK Theatre?
With so many new works being written and produced, how is it changing the wider landscape of theatre? How many new works (those written in the last ten years or so) go on to be large-scale successes and why? How many UK plays transfer abroad or to Broadway? What effect is new work having on the established West End hierarchy of mega-musicals or American transfers? (Les Mis, Beautiful, Wicked, etc) For example, King Charles III has been one of the big success stories of the last year, however will it continue to be successful (a source suggested it would be a 'classic' in another twenty years) or will the fact that the plot is so current, make it seem dated in another decade?
I intend to research this through conversations with long-term theatre practitioners of all disciplines (actors, directors, dramaturgs and producers) to find out what impact the popularity of new writing has had on the landscape of theatre: whether they feel there is less of a place for the classics, that people *want* to see more new work and have less patience for texts they may only remember from school, or whether they feel it is a phase that will pass; whether any new work has the power to become a classic or if it is too rooted in a specific time and place without the ability to cross over generations.
Image Source: bbc.co.uk
So that's where I'm up to at the moment. I'm feeling quite calm now that I actually have a plan of what I want to research and how to go about it as previously I just had loads of ideas and no set methodology of what to do or how to go about it!
As always, thoughts and ideas very welcome!!