Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Friday, April 9, 2010

Taking Intrinsic Impact to the Next Level

This morning, in You've Cott Mail (which if you aren't subscribed to, you should be!), Thomas Cott highlighted an article from the Guardian UK about some work being done there on measuring the emotional response of audiences to theatre. What was so interesting about the article is that it mirrors some major research we’re about to launch here at Theatre Bay Area and in six cities across the US.

The article is a summary of a new effort in the UK to measure the emotional response of audiences to art. Working with WolfBrown, the research firm that piloted a lot of this intrinsic impact research (as it’s called), we’ll be building a similar survey and doing follow-up research with 25 theatre companies in six cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Charleston). Throughout the 2010/2011 season, we, with arts service organization partners in each city (LA Stage Alliance, Theatre Puget Sound, ART/New York, League of Chicago Theatres, League of Charleston Theatres), will be working with the theatre companies to set intrinsic impact goals for three productions in a season, measure the effect of each of those productions using the survey, and then generate a final report for each company and work through, with the artistic, administrative and marketing staff, the implications of the research and how it matches (or doesn’t match) the company's hoped-for goals.

In addition, as part of this work, we’ll be developing a web-based interface that we hope will eventually allow any theatre across the country access to an affordable, fee-for-service program in intrinsic impact. Companies will be able to produce the survey themselves, learn how to set goals for the various axes of intrinsic impact, and then log the results themselves and see how they stack up. They’ll be able to develop a portfolio of their impact on their audiences, with a lot of possible implications as more companies participate. Over time, by making this an affordable service [which it currently decidedly is not – this research project, with projected generous funding from three national foundations and assorted local foundations (more news on that once the contracts are signed), will have a total budget upwards of $400,000], we hope to provide companies with a new way of measuring the effectiveness of their work on audiences. In addition, we hope these measurements eventually will become an alternative way of demonstrating worth to funders, audiences and trustees.

Our work will begin over the summer as staff from Theatre Bay Area and WolfBrown begin traveling to the partner cities, identifying theatre companies with the partner ASOs, and beginning the induction process. We’re incredibly excited about this new work – especially now that we see that there’s a parallel effort going on in the UK. We expect to be able to report out on this, at least preliminary results, in time for our Annual Conference next spring, and plan on doing final reporting on the project at TCG and NAMP in 2011.

P.S. As some of you know, we did a pilot of this project a few years ago around Free Night. The results of that pilot are available here. It’s the report called "Assessing the Intrinsic Impact of the Bay Area Free Night of Theater Program."

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