Broadly speaking, that’s what I do. I study audiences. I’ve got a PhD in audience research. And while I don’t always call them that (sometimes ‘participant’ is a more appropriate word, other times ‘community’), there’s a reason I keep coming back to ‘audience’, and I’ll be talking about that as part of my week in charge.
So what do I actually do? Big question. At its most basic level, my research aims to seek out and challenge assumptions made about audiences: about who they are (and are not), why they like the things they do (and otherwise), what motivates people to take part in cultural events and projects, and what keeps others away. This feeds into ongoing debates around big topics like participation, community, authenticity, inequality, legitimacy, exclusion, diversity… but really at its heart my research is all about value. Specifically, cultural value. Even more specifically, understanding the processes by which different people – from diverse subject positions – find and articulate value in creative activities. Whether that means being part of a more traditional ‘audience’, or making work themselves; whether what they’re watching is happening in front of them, or accessed via screens; I’m interested in talking to rather than about audiences, capturing pleasures and disappointments, and mapping rather than reducing complexity.
I do this via a range of publications (most recent of which is my book, Locating the Audience: Finding Value in National Theatre Wales), but also in other kinds of ways. As a consultant researcher I’m currently involved in a number of arts impact projects, and produce practical resources to help industry partners understand more about people’s understandings and engagements. I founded the Performing Audience Research Network, bringing together scholars around the world interested in empirically researching theatre, music, dance, stand-up comedy, and all other kinds of live performance. I work with the Society for Theatre Research, which aims to open up dialogues between academics (established and early-career), theatre practitioners, and private scholars – those who may have no university-led research training but who are producing brilliant knowledge about theatre outside academia. And I lecture: on all kinds of subjects, and currently without a home institution, but usually focusing on reconsidering binary divisions (between activity/passivity, liveness/mediatisation, intimacy/spectacle, ‘good’/’bad’, amateur/professional). (I especially love doing guest lectures – so if you’d like to hear more then please get in touch!)
This week I'll be considering the methodological, empirical, and epistemological challenges involved in capturing diverse reactions, as well as what happens to those responses – and to the art itself – when we do. It’s a contentious field, so vociferous objections, respectful rejoinders, and robust debates are encouraged!
See you then.