“Service providers are often mandated by their funders to do program evaluations and sometimes it ends up being little more than a box to check-off as a requirement. Often, there’s not enough money or time to do it in a meaningful way. There is a standard list of evaluation methods: surveys, feedback forms, focus groups and consultations can look very similar. TSDC’s post-performance activities were very creative and different. There is a world of possibility, you can do it in completely different ways, you can get people’s thoughts drawing pictures! It is really inspiring to connect with community in a more engaging way. This idea of the audience as participants who contribute to research in creative ways may nudge service providers to look at evaluation processes in a new way.”
—Patti McNaney, Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton.
Another way we invite audience members to participate is through post-performance activities. These activities are designed to creatively engage audiences as actors in the ongoing conversation that the play initiates about the future of the City. Just as the performance repositions participants into the role of creators and performers rather than ‘victims’ in need of ‘saving’, post-performance activities recast audiences as co-creators of a shared public environment that needs to have meaningful places for everyone.
Our approach to post-performance activities is guided by several factors: First, since TSDC audiences are often largely made up of community and self-advocates, service providers, sector workers, policy makers, and educators, the social content presented in the plays may not be especially surprising or new. In fact, because of the amount of knowledge and information held by both the performers and the audience members, post-performance discussions that focus specifically on content risk becoming repeats of familiar debates. These are important and necessary conversations, but they are also conversations that take place in other spaces.
TSDC performances are intended to invite a different kind of conversation. It is a conversation that asks audience members to step out of their professional role and their professional mode of communication. Instead we invite audiences to engage in a creative exchange where, like the performers, they are part of an ensemble of actors on the stage of a shared public environment — the City. They are co-creators of an ongoing collective story about how to make that environment a more inviting place for everyone.
A second factor is our concern with the limiting ways we are conditioned to behave as ‘audiences.’ Most of us have been deeply impacted by a movie or play or some other kind of performance that addresses social issues. But to what end? Does it prompt you to act in some way? To tell a friend, or colleague? To want to learn more about the subject? To meet with others to see what they think? Perhaps it sparks some kind of action. That’s great! Perhaps not. That’s sad, but not surprising.
Though performance has the ability to reach beyond the numbness that can be a by-product of our information-saturated world, our response-role as audiences is often limited. We can applaud. In some circumstances, we participate in a post-show Q&A with the cast. Maybe after the performance we go out for a bite to eat with friends and reflect on what we saw. Maybe the performance stays with us and we talk about it with family, friends, work colleagues, neighbors — and maybe not. Maybe our moment of being moved extends to some action, or maybe it remains just that, a moment.
As the performer-advocates make clear with their closing requests, TSDC performances ask more of their audiences than being emotionally moved. They also ask them to engage and, like the performers themselves, to take risks in how they are willing to engage. Framing the performance and the post-performance as parts of an ongoing series of ‘Acts’ recognizes audience members as actors in the themes of the play. With this framing we invite audiences into a collaborative activity over time and place linked with the performance event and the experience of participating in it together. Looked at in this way, both the play and the post-performance activities become part of a larger “conversation piece,” a socially engaged artwork organized to foster and facilitate dialogue.
- See Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. ↵