As soon as I found out that a 20 day work placement was a module option on my Arts Management Policy and Practice course, I jumped at the chance to apply. Most of my previous work experience had been within smaller, more independent charities and organisations so I felt that this was my opportunity to experience something new.
The Royal Exchange Theatre’s You, The Audience project placement role instantly stood out to me as it encompassed so many different elements including involvement in putting together a visual/sound installation called Show and Tell as well as generally helping to develop their ongoing research project that they describe as “a giant conversation with everyone who has ever been part of the Royal Exchange Theatre’s audience”. I’ve always had a keen interest in working within audience engagement in some capacity and The Royal Exchange was certainly a large organisation so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out more about this kind of working environment.
On meeting Amanda (Director of Audience Engagement) and Kate (Producer) in the first week I knew I was in safe hands because they were incredibly welcoming from the start. I joined the project at the pre-production stage of the Show and Tell exhibition in which they were collating audio material from audience members to include in the sound installation for the studio space. Within the first few weeks I was responsible for contacting potential interviewees via their contacts database as well as putting call outs through their learning and engagement groups before carrying out short one-to-one interviews or ‘conversations’ with people about their most memorable theatre experience. It was fascinating to hear from such a diverse range of people about their personal experiences of theatre and what to them makes the best kind of theatre.
One of the key principles behind ‘You, the Audience’ was to find new ways of obtaining more in depth information about their audiences because after a discussion with Amanda it became clear that the Royal Exchange Theatre’s primary methods of research for obtaining this information was largely carried out by their marketing department. With support from Amanda therefore I decided to develop my own research method using two different approaches to obtaining data. I designed a Survey Monkey questionnaire which was sent out to every audience member on their database as well as put together a focus group framework with a diverse group of already existing audience members. I facilitated a section of the focus group in which I asked participants to create an annotated drawing of their ideal theatre space, money being no object. We discussed everyone’s ideas and got some really insightful feedback as a result. The idea was to get people thinking about what they liked and didn’t like in a theatre and what they would do if they had the power to change things. We thought it would be interesting to compare the results of the survey and the focus group discussion so I also wrote up a report in response to this.
With a background in film production and having had no previous experience of working within a theatre company, I knew this placement would be a challenging one. However, I’m grateful to the audience engagement team for giving me so much responsibility and freedom within my role whilst supporting me along the way to get the most out of my placement. There is no doubt that I learnt a huge amount during my time at The Royal Exchange and I will certainly take this with me as I move forward in my future professional endeavours!