The Evil Imp

Conceptual Research Crazy

Have you ever listened to programmers and theatre directors talk about “their” audience? You probably have at some point, especially if you’ve ever tried to get your work programmed in a theatre of some description.

You might have been told that your work is not good for “them” because “their” audience doesn’t respond well to abstract work. “They” prefer the more lyrical kind of dancing, you know, “dancey, dancing!” Or the exact opposite of that if you work happens to be the more “dancey” kind of dancing.

Reading between the lines, they are either true believers or they just want you to go away so they can book Richard Alston again!

Such thinking extends to taking work from one country to another as well, it’s just the words that change. Is a work “international” enough? They will ask. How will it “translate” to another country, even if there are no words in it?

Dutch people prefer this, Danish people prefer that and the Germans, well, “they” don’t like anything! International audiences, “they” are very “different” aren’t “they”?

It’s gotten worse with the advent of so-called CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software that many theatres and large companies have become completely enamoured with.

This software tracks all manner of statistical gibberish on people who come to a theatre, buy tickets, give money, sign up for friends schemes and all the other sleight of hand used by culture organisations to get money out of people.

Garbage In Garbage Out

The fundamental problem with a lot of this is the fact that your system (computerised or not) is only as good as the data that goes in it.

Look at it this way. If your theatre is known for programming unintelligible hyper abstract conceptual work then the people who come through your door and keep coming through your door will tell you that they love it and they want more of it.

If you then program something which is the complete opposite of that in your theatre then the people who like work that is not unintelligible hyper abstract and conceptual still won’t come.

They won’t come because they think you’re the theatre that programs all the unintelligible hyper abstract conceptual work so why should this other thing they have never heard of be any different?

Those people will spend their money on a nice meal and a few drinks. The people who do actually come to your show that’s different from the normal stuff you program will probably have expected the unintelligible hyper abstract conceptual work, won’t like the new stuff you have brought in and will tell you that.

The conclusion? Simple, “our” audience doesn’t like anything but unintelligible hyper abstract conceptual work so we won’t programme stuff that doesn’t conform to that creative template. Why? Because our CRM software says so!

You never get any data from the “other people” that don’t like unintelligible hyper abstract conceptual work because they never come through the door. They’re onto you, so no matter what you program they won’t come. You (the theatre) have made your bed so now your stuck with the unintelligible hyper abstract conceptual work brigade until the end of time.


So, what do you we take from this? You need to reach the people who don’t come to your theatre, you don’t actually “know” your audience at all because “your” audience is not some sentient being that is capable of forming a single opinion.

Everybody likes different stuff, so mix it it up a little and unintelligible hyper abstract conceptual work kinda sucks anyway!