"Have we actually stopped objectifying audiences?" Nope - and that's the Problem.

By Clay Lord, Director of Marketing and Audience Development, Theatre Bay Area

I want to strongly echo Lynne's thoughts on the biggest potential threat being our current lack of understanding about our audiences.  While net neutrality and copyright are important, particularly for certain genres, in my little theatrical corner of the world, we're watch people pass by our lobby doors every day, heading to restaurants, sporting events, movies, friends houses, whatever.  Advocacy-wise, we rely on generalized and relatively unengaging economic analyses about how much other business beside actual ticketsales our work creates, and when we speak to government officials we talk about artists livelihoods and neighborhood stability almost entirely in terms of dollars.  This just isn't cutting it anymore.  Casey's YouTube video post is informative in exactly this way (and this isn't anywhere near an original thought): they want stories, anecdotes -- the arts can change people.  But I'm not sure just that will work either, though. 

Lynne asks, "Ten years or so into the "Audience Engagement" era, have we actually stopped objectifying audiences (butts in seats)?" I don't think we have, and I think that's the capital-P Problem.

Which is why I'm so excited about the work of Alan Brown and others on the intrinsic impact of the arts -- actually putting on paper, in the same visual language as the economic analyses we're so comfortable with, the audience-reported intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and social impacts of the work they're seeing.  Alan and his colleagues are currently working with us on a large, 5-city study of the impact of theatre over the course of a season on patrons and the development of a web-based tool that will make the protocols, theories and reports associated with this research a little or no cost.  It's all heady, and it runs the risk of sounding superfluous, especially against concrete things like copyright, but making manifest something that is otherwise completely esoteric--the actual impact of art--may ultimately change everything about the conversation.  Or at least I hope so.

This has been such fun -- thanks to Doug and all the other organizers.  I really appreciate being involved!

(You can find out more about intrinsic impact at http://www.theatrebayarea.org/intrinsicimpact)

July 23, 2010 9:21 AM | | Comments (1) |


Perhaps the problem is not only a lack of knowledge about audiences, but the systematic destruction of audiences. There was once a “Golden Age of Television” that lasted from the late 40s to the very early 60s. Programs included The Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre, Playhouse 90, and The Bell Telephone Hour. There were regular concerts and appearances by Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini, and even the first opera written for television, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” By the 60s, corporate interests took precedence and the fight for ratings led to programs that literally dumbed-down the audience. Ironically, through knowledge of the audience, its intelligence was destroyed. Will knowledge of the audience always be better at objectifying it for comemerical purposes rather than enriching it?

Is it possible that a similar Golden Age of the Internet is now coming to an end? Will the evolution of sites like Facebook dumb-down the Net? Will the Net become a place dominated by the 50 word statements in little boxes, followed by a bunch of silly wise cracks? Will the major media sites like CNN, MSNBC, and the major papers continue to increasingly dominate what we read on the web and eventually occupy so much attention that the Net’s Golden Age of free, almost anarchic dialog erode? Will a practice of censoring forum discussions in the name of moderating them become the norm? Will the growing competition to find Net advertising constrain freedom of thought? What will the effects be when Hollywood begins to use the Net to deliver its products?

In other words, will the kinds of forums held here on AJ become even more rare and marginalized?

These forces might eventually be bigger threats than bandwidth allocation and licensing. Commercialization is already destroying the Golden Age of the web just like similar forces destroyed the Golden Age of Television. Once that happens, bandwidth and licensing will become less relevant because there will be little intelligent left anyway. Sorry to be so pessimistic.

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