Hi. I’m Joe E. Heimlich, a professor at Ohio State University in Extension, based at a science center. I work with all sorts of museums and increasingly with performing arts organizations and presenters. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do some interesting evaluation with jazz groups, theatre productions, dance troupes, and now a symphony. I’d like to share some challenges I’ve discovered in evaluation of theatre.
Theatre productions are often seen as ‘educational’ and there are many theatre organizations doing school-based programming, outreach, training, and community workshops where the production is used to engage learners and to lead to discussions and subsequent activities. Most resources on theatre evaluation refer either to this type of educational theatre or to evaluation of the technical aspects of the production. It is only recently that theatre companies have begun to evaluate outcomes of the production audience.
In doing evaluation work, theatre companies often struggle with defining audience outcomes and question the value of doing such work. The challenge for the evaluator is twofold:
1) engaging the company toward a shared understanding of how evaluation can facilitate the company’s success, especially for companies building productions and theatres attempting to change programming; and
2) gathering data in a situation where the standard practice is to vacate the theatre as rapidly as possible.
Put yourself in the seat as a theatre patron, and reflect on how you would respond to a request to engage in providing your insights and feedback. Timing is everything, and creating multiple data points with fewer questions at any one time is important.
- In developing an understanding of the production or outreach effort, break evaluation questions into as many ‘staged’ points as possible. Isolate different entry characteristics, expectations, and dispositions, and desired outcomes and intentions, and measure them across different nights with different audiences (dealing with day of week or time of performance bias, of course). As individuals enter they may be asked to complete a 1 page pre-measure or a short interview. Some change or affect responses can be obtained mid-point during intermission. When a post-production questionnaire is necessary, I randomly place a one page (actually, 4.25×8.5 inch format) in programs, provide golf pencils, and have the director or an actor request participation from the stage at the beginning and end of production.
- Discussion groups are powerful when appropriate, and are usually done by invitation and held post-production.
- For bigger studies, using subscriber and single-ticket buyer lists is handy for mail/web-based questionnaires.
- A great summary of museum theatre (slightly different animal but the studies are good)
- Some good inspirations come from theatre education evaluation
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