Kerry Michael explores Theatre Royal, Stratford East’s holistic approach to audience development in this report from the AMA conference 2005.
Kerry started by wondering why in arts organisations 'the last character we cast is the audience'. He shared his belief that art doesn't exist without audiences and that audiences are a vital and dynamic part of the creation of an event.
His presentation focused on how his venue is trying to address this. Firstly he introduced the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. Joan Littlewood who, he said, put the intelligent working class voice on stage founded the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Philip Hedly continued her legacy by commissioning a lot of black and Asian work. Kerry has succeeded Philip and is now taking the venue down a more culturally diverse route with work which reflects the extraordinary diversity of the borough:
- it's the most culturally diverse population in the country
- it has a younger than average population
- it has a transient population with many asylum seekers - 115 languages are spoken in local schools
- it is the third most deprived borough in the country
It's a challenging market place but he finds it very exciting. Until recently, the Theatre Royal was always being praised for being a multi-cultural theatre. Kerry believes that in fact they were a uni-cultural theatre. For example, black audiences would come and see black shows. Asian audiences would see Asian shows. Only recently have they begun to have some success at addressing this.
Kerry puts part of the success down to his background as a marketer, which has left him with a strong belief that the audience always plays a dynamic role in the event, which makes theatre what it is. He maintains that there should be three roles at the top table in organisations: the programmer/artistic driver, the marketing function, the education role (not programmer, fund development and finance which is common in many organisations).
The result of this planning dynamic is that you can be serious about attracting hard to reach audience members not only by targeted marketing but with specific programming. For example, the Theatre Royal wanted to attract young black people from the borough. They noticed that they would spend £30 on a night at a club but would not pay £7.50 to come to the theatre. So they put rap musicals on the stage of the theatre and gave the young people something that they did value.