AT PEACE... 95% SATISFACTION RATING!
Audience survey indicates a massive community audience endorsement.
The following are the results of a survey conducted at two venues towards the end of the 2007 tour of Upstate Live's latest production, At Peace. The survey was carried out by graduate researcher Aoife Lennon as part of Upstate's commitment under the Arts Council's Touring Experiment to test responses to a show which had been developed following action research within local communities, including migrant groups in the North East of Ireland.
The survey was carried out over two evenings. The first location was The Millbank Theatre in Rush, a small venue in a rural town in Fingal, North County Dublin. Several Latvian and other nationalities attended on the night, reflecting the multi-ethnic community of the town which is sometimes referred to as ‘the Latvian capital of Western Europe'.
The second was Axis Arts Centre a community resource in the Dublin suburb of Ballymun, an area currently undergoing a huge civic regeneration programme.
The two research populations could be described as quite distinct - one rural, one urban; one (Rush) more closely connected to the community action research process which informed the devising of the play; one more detached. Nonetheless, there was great consensus in responses across both sample populations.
A. THE PROPOSITION
Upstate had proposed to the Touring Experiment that it would "test a ‘community-engaged' approach to the touring of new and innovative theatre in the regions."
From the outset, Upstate indicated to the Touring Experiment that At Peace would fall under the "Challenging New Work" category of touring theatre. For various reasons the play would prove hard to sell to the general public.
The submission stated: "At Peace will be perceived by promoters as ‘challenging'... being a new play going direct to touring, performed in three languages, based on little-known myths and with surreal and expressionist scenography...! It offers none of the easy options that are believed to help in the selling of a show - star actors; star writer; light entertainment, a body of advance reviews etc."
Countering the above disadvantages, however, we argued that "At Peace is not a ‘parachuted' or obscure new work and is in fact devised precisely with regional touring audiences in mind, (being) ... informed by a Community Engaged action research process undertaken in the border region ... The primary intended audiences are on a geographic arc from Dundalk through Armagh/Monaghan, through Navan to North Dublin...local themes returned to a local audience. Beyond this region, the themes and situations remain recognizable, especially in towns or suburban communities with sizeable multi-cultural populations."
This is an edited summary of some of the key findings:
1. On the matter of their experience of attending theatre in Ireland:
20% of those surveyed said they attend theatre in Ireland rarely or said that this was their first time
(74% attend ‘regularly' or ‘occasionally')
A substantial number of the irregular attenders are not Irish nationals, suggesting that the show .reached some of the target new, migrant audience.
2. Expectations: Audiences tended to arrive with high and generous expectations. Based on information they had read or received before arriving,
76% expected the show to be entertaining
67% expected the show to be thought-provoking
67% expected ‘a good story'
Only 7% were worried that the show would be ‘hard to understand'
And 5% expected it to be ‘politically one-sided' (as one critic had declared it)
3. Did it match expectations? Immediately after the performance, indications were that those who arrived with high expectations had been satisfied.
86% said they had found it entertaining (10% more than had arrived with this expectation)
81% said they had found it thought-provoking (14% more than had arrived with this expectation)
79% said they had found it ‘a good story' (12% more than had arrived with this expectation)
In other areas, audiences got added bonuses they had not expected.
73% said they had found it ‘emotionally moving' (compared with only 41% who had arrived with this expectation)
84% said they had found it ‘well-produced' (compared with only 56% who had arrived with this expectation)
Only 1% said they found it ‘hard to understand' and 5% said they found it ‘boring' (although each of these respondents also found it either ‘entertaining' or ‘thought-provoking' suggesting it engaged them in parts but not in full)
4. On the matter of ‘topicality' and ‘relevance'
9% found it ‘politically one-sided' although 56% did not, with 33% expressing no opinion on this question.
86% said they had found it topical (compared with only 58% who had arrived with this expectation)
64% said they had found it ‘relevant to local experience' (compared with only 43% who had arrived with this expectation)
5. Topicality: When it was put to them that "Upstate occasionally produces work that is considered 'relevant to the community' and this play has been described as fitting this description in certain ways."
60% said that "this kind of topical relevance" had "added to the experience or enjoyment of the play"
0% said it had "detracted from the experience or enjoyment of the play"
7% said it had "made no difference"
(32% ventured no opinion)
6. The remaining questions addressed largely artistic issues and provide affirmation of certain creative decisions, (in particular the high-risk decision to perform a show for the ‘popular audience' in three languages).
83% felt that the decision to "use the original languages of the characters in certain scenes, using translated surtitles" had "added to the experience or enjoyment of the play". 0% said it had "detracted from the experience or enjoyment of the play"
(16% expressed no opinion)
95% said the play had been "well written".
95% said the play had been "well directed".
93% said the play had been "well designed" (set).
95% said the play had been "well designed (costume)".
Finally, a number of respondents availed of the opportunity to add further comments of their own. These were overwhelmingly positive with occasional critical observations. The more critical comments included: "Surtitles hard to read"; "(direction) a bit all over the place" and "Irish story clichéd - weakest of three". Positives included: "An amazing theatrical experience - mix of nationality and content thought-provoking and deeply moving"; "I found it powerful and universal"; "Great to experience something so rich, real, relevant and moving - miraculous how you managed to weave all the threads, (cultural, political & artistic) together"; and "I found it a very moving play, we need to embrace all."