Participations launches substantial new collection of theatre audience research

The launch of this website was broadly timed to coincide with the release of a new special issue of Participations, the international journal of audience research. We are happy to announce that the special issue is now available to view and download free of charge from the Participations website.

Containing thirteen new articles on theatre audiences, the special issue has been split up into two sections. The first, Institutions, Values, Voices, contains seven articles that all consider how audiences’ reactions to performance encounters are shaped in complex ways by an awareness of the ‘institutional’ frameworks in which they take part. The second, Participation, Intimacy, Immersion, contains six articles that explore the negotiations audiences undertake when faced with deliberately participatory performance forms. Together these articles present a substantial contribution to our understanding of how people’s theatre-going activities connect with their wider senses of self.

The idea for this special issue has been brewing for years. I know from our conversations that one of Participations‘ editor-in-chiefs, Martin Barker, has long hoped that empirical research into live performance audiences would gather sufficient critical momentum to make a significant collection possible. When we first started to discuss the possibility of bringing something together I was a PhD student, studying the audiences of National Theatre Wales under Martin’s tutelage. I was therefore extremely fortunate that Matthew Reason – probably the most prolific researcher of theatre audiences in the UK – agreed to join forces to edit the collection. This has, I think, come at just the right time. As we say in our editorial, over the past couple of years a significant number of new projects and publications have indicated a sharp increase in interest in live audiences: not just who they are, but how they find value and meaning in the things they see.

That’s where this website comes in. While there are now more people than ever interested in empirical investigations of audiences’ responses (with a particularly noticeable spike in early-career researchers), we are still relatively dispersed. I know that I sometimes feel myself to be on the fringes of two different traditions: theatre studies proper, and the audience research tradition that grew initially out of film and TV research, with its core still largely located there. By bringing together details of opportunities, events and resources, and by publishing information about projects and conferences with which we’re involved, we hope to promote a shared sense of ongoing, focused, international investigations of the live audience experience. After all, there are plenty of us out there doing the work. Now it’s time to talk about it.

By Kirsty Sedgman.

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