Connecting in a time of change and Finding a way forward #ADA
Helena Jacques-Morton, Marketing Officer, Chichester Festival Theatre takes us through how they adapted their programme and communications during Covid-19 as part of her Fellowship at the Audience Diversity Academy.
Blog 1: Connecting in a time of Change
Reading my application for the ADA back in preparation for my first meeting with my mentor Rachel Grossman last month felt like revisiting a different world. When I applied in February, we were gearing up for our most exciting season yet, with a return of our pop-up third space The Spiegeltent, and ample opportunities for engaging new audiences and engaging our current audiences in new things.
Fast forward to October 2020
Fast forward to October and after eight months with no shows, we were about to embark on our new, revised, socially distanced Autumn season. We'd established entirely new ways of working and made changes we never expected to make. Somehow we'd managed to find opportunities within the lockdowns and the restrictions and the general madness of the world to continue connecting with our local community online, outside or in smaller socially distanced groups.
Time - the unexpected outcome
An unexpected outcome of Covid-19 for me as an individual, as well as a team and an organisation, has been time. Aside from the frantic weeks of cancellations, refunds, moving shows and seat bubbles, there has been time this year to look at the way we do what we do and work together to think about how we can do it better. For this reason, it feels that despite everything, this is the best possible time to be part of the Audience Diversity Academy.
Extending our Prologue scheme
When we decided to launch an Autumn season of work, we also decided to just do something we’d thought and talked about for a while – extending our £5 Prologue tickets for 16-25 year olds up until their 31st birthday. As a result, the Prologue scheme now caters to a huge age range and I feel the offer and communications need to reflect the different ages of our members. Because they’re ‘new’ and have historically been our least represented age group, I’m focusing on 26-30s.
In my discussions with Rachel we talked about what the best way of reaching out to these new audience members might be and settled on a very casual virtual hangout as my first experiment. We were lucky to be able to finish our run of Crave, the first show we’d planned for the new season, and this was also our first foray into digital streaming. The show had a really strong interest from 26-30s and is all about loneliness and the difficulties of making human connections in a complicated world. As such – and painfully aware that there might be no interest – I sent an invitation to everyone aged 26-30 who’d seen the show, whether in person before the latest lockdown, or online, to join me on a Friday evening for a chat on zoom.
Despite my anxiety about treading the fine line between ‘organised fun’ and a fun yet organised evening, people came and we talked and we laughed and we commiserated about furlough and moving back in with parents. We discussed the play, how it had felt to be back in a room with an audience, how it felt to hear that audience take their seats from the quiet of your own living room, what it was like to watch a cast bow to an empty auditorium. We all managed to overcome the initial awkwardness of meeting new people from your laptop screen to make a connection with a stranger.
And at the end, people said ‘we should do this again’. So we will. And I will keep trying to make connections with people, because that’s the point really, isn’t it?
Blog 2: Finding a way forward
© Chichester Festival Theatre
One of the things that has been most exciting about my ADA journey so far has been dedicating time to think and to talk and to work through thoughts, ideas, problems and solutions with other people. It’s so easy to be caught up in the day-to-day pressures of work and deadlines and targets and – especially in 2020 when we’ve been constantly reacting to headlines, press conferences and events far beyond our control – it can seem like there’s no time to stop and think a bit bigger.
Gearing up for reopening
In September, as we geared up for our reopening and our Autumn season, our Executive Team launched the Way Forward Taskforce and opened it up to anyone at CFT who wanted to be a part of conversations about building back better (thank you Mr Biden). Item one on the agenda was a less W1A name, but it’s kind of stuck! At the same time, we appointed our very first Youth Advisory Board, and I started the ADA.
Suddenly, in a weird twist of timings, I was carving out time to have those big, amorphous conversations in three separate arenas. There have been times when this has been a lot – I process best through talking aloud and therefore found myself swimming with thoughts and ideas that had found their way to the surface. I’ve had to exercise some patience in realising that not everyone is – or has the time right now to be – spending as much time talking about how we move forward in diversifying not only our audiences, but also our organisation and our ways of thinking.
Black Lives Matter and anti-racism
Of course, each conversation has been different but there have been certain things that crop up again and again. Black Lives Matter and anti-racism work has been at the forefront of much of what we’ve talked about and has required a level of discomfort that is necessary but difficult.
We have to acknowledge the fact that the majority of these rooms are predominantly white and avoid speaking to anyone else’s lived experience of racism whilst also acknowledging that racism is white people’s problem and owning that and acting upon it.
We can’t ignore talking about diversity because of our lack of it. We have to name the problem and move forward with tangible anti-racism strategies and actions.
Avoiding echo chambers
My current challenge is making sense of these conversations and working out how they fit together and how I can bring different people’s voices and thoughts to the different tables. There is also a challenge to ensure that these conversations are not limited to those who have volunteered to be there and get caught in an echo chamber. We’re working really hard in both the Way Forward and the Youth Advisory Board to try and find tangible action points we can take to the wider organisation, but sometimes I think there also needs to be space just to talk and see where those thoughts and ideas lead you.
Let’s get a bigger table.
Helena Jacques-Morton, Chichester Festival Theatre
Helena studied English and Theatre at St Andrews and University of California San Diego, followed by an MLitt in Writing for Performance. She is currently Marketing Officer at Chichester Festival Theatre and manages the Prologue scheme for 16-30-year olds and works on audience development projects including Relaxed Performances and the piloting of a Youth Advisory Board.