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Digital Audience Engagement For The Performing Arts Sector

Digital Audience Engagement For The Performing Arts Sector

The pressure on the arts and culture sector to justify its existence is unremitting. Digital audience and community engagement are an avenue for performing arts centres to reach their communities beyond the confines of a bricks and mortar reality.

I was recently invited to present at a Melbourne gathering of managers of performing arts centres on the broad topic, “What might community engagement look like for the performing arts sector?”

The brief was to be deliberately provocative and to bring an outsider’s perspective to the role of the performing arts centre in the life of the community in the digital age.

Knowing nothing about performing arts, I was perfectly placed to offer a perspective based entirely on ignorance! The caveat, therefore, on the notes that follow, is that I apologise in advance for either causing offence, or teaching more knowledgeable readers to “suck eggs”.

The rest of this post is an inaccurate recording (from memory) of my presentation based on the embedded slide show below.



Slide #1 – Where to for the future


  • What might community engagement look like for the performing arts sector?


Slide #2 – What is your role in your community?


  • To run a performing arts facility?


  • To support the performing arts?
  • To bring the performing arts to your community?
  • To cultivate an appreciation for the performing arts?
  • To expose your community to new artists, art forms, ideas, stories, cultures…?


Slide #3 – Why Engage?


  • To get more bums on seats.
  • To develop deeper relationships.
  • To open up new funding opportunities.
  • To make your organisation more robust (in a fraught political and financial climate).


 Slides #4 & 5 – Engagement Basics


  • People respond to things they understand
  • People respond to things that directly affect them
  • People respond to things with emotional content
  • People respond to an opportunity to self-promote
  • People respond to an opportunity to learn skills and knowledge
  • People like to be mentored
  • People need to trust you. Flat structures encourage this.
  • People need to know their input is genuinely valued (in order to come back).
  • (Younger) people prefer to be involved ‘creatively’ and ‘constructively’ rather than ‘dialogically’ or ‘didactically’


Slide #6 – Digital Engagement


  • What could your ‘business’ look like online?
  • How might (digital) engagement help you to achieve your organisational objectives?
  • How could you use digital to expand you influence, reach and impact?


Slide #7 – Online Community


Establishing and nurturing an online community is the primary task of digital engagement.

  • Who is your community?
  • How big is your community?
  • How are you leveraging that community?
  • Can you get more value out of your community?


Slide #8 – Arts Centre Melbourne Facebook Page


Arts Centre Melbourne Facebook Page

Screen Grab: Arts Centre Melbourne Facebook Page


  • Like the vast majority of Facebook pages, the ACM page is  being used as a narrow casting information channel, rather than as a “community” space.
  • It’s worth noting that while FB pages are a good place to gather “followers”, only a small percentage of followers can be reached via wall posts.
  • For FB pages to be an effective “advertising” space, posts need to be “boosted”.
  • FB pages do NOT provide a space for creative digital engagement.


Slide #9 – Strategic Thinking


The rest of the slides discuss opportunities to apply digital engagement to the business of running a community performing arts facility.

  • What does your community think about your priorities, plans, program and more…?


Slides #10 & #11 – Creative Sydney


  • Sydney City Council created an online portal to engage its community in a conversation about the Draft Cultural Policy and Action Plan.
  • They asked one big question; “What creative life do you want for Sydney?” and a host of supplementary questions via an online discussion forum, for example, “The Sydney Opera House was a big, bold, risky idea. How do we show that our door is always open to courageous creative innovation?”



Cover Page: Creative City - Sydney City Council's Draft Cultural Policy and Action Plan

Cover Page: Creative City – Sydney City Council’s Draft Cultural Policy and Action Plan



Slide #12 – Creative Victoria


  • Creative Victoria developed a website to support the ideation process for its Creative Industries Strategy.


Screen Grab from Creative Victoria strategy website

Screen Grab from Creative Victoria strategy website


Slide #13 – Programme Co-Design


  • Who gets to decide what you put on stage?
  • Is there room for community input into a part, or all, of the calendar?


Slide #14 – My Football Club


My Football Club

Screen Grab: My Football Club website


  • Could a community arts facility learn from the My Football Club experience?
  • MyFootballClub is a unique internet venture that uses the principle of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to help support the running of a real football club.
  • We are a group of football fans around the globe who collectively pay a small annual membership fee of £25 per year to help our club which is Slough Town FC of the Southern League Division 1 Central. MyFC is the sponsor of Slough Town until the end of the 2014-15 season.
  • This model brings a unique dialogue between the club and the community, with local fans sharing knowledge about the club, and global members contributing their expertise and skills that would otherwise cost the club. Members are able to bring fresh ideas, which are discussed and voted on as a community, for action by the Club.
  • How much power are performing arts centres willing to hand over to their community?


Slide #15 – Performance Hosting


  • Can you curate an online ‘space’ for community performances?
  • Could you have a YouTube, Vimeo, or Soundcloud channel for community content?
  • Could you stream this content to your website to create an integrated hub for your local community?


Slide #16 – TED: Ideas worth spreading


Screen Grab from TED website

Screen Grab from TED website


  • The TED site provides a great example of a highly curated online space.
  • In this case, the content are talks or, in just a few cases, performances.
  • Could a local performance space host a similar online space for local performers?


Slide #17 – Responsive Content


  • Can you generate interest, enthusiasm, learning (and theatre attendance) by asking people to respond to your creatively online?
  • Would competitions work for your audience?
  • Could you leverage locally generated content socially to build awareness of your program?


Slide #18 – Gotye YouTube Orchestra



  • Watch the above video, it’s awesome. And I don’t like the word awesome.
  • Gotye’s international hit, “Somebody that I used to know” was widely covered on YouTube by professional and (very) amateur musicians around the world.
  • Gotye got into the zeitgeist of the moment and created a “mashup” video of dozens of the tribute/cover versions.
  • Could performing arts centres leverage this kind of creativity at a local level?


Slide #19 – Distributed Performances


  • Does your audience really need to be in the room?
  • Do the performers all need to be in one place?
  • Do the performers need to be a ‘troupe’ of professionals?
  • Can your community ‘perform’ and ‘direct’?


Slide #20 – Immersive Theatre



Screen-Shot-2015-11-17-at-5.17” alt=”Immersive Theatre” width=”515″ height=”381″ /> Screen Grab: Immersive Theatre website


  • Entertainment technology has changed forever the way we enjoy storytelling and gaming industry offered us the amazing gift of immersion: that particular experience of being somebody else for a moment in time, of having the power to tell our stories in a variety of ways; the amazing gift of landing in fantasy places and outside time.
  • Immersive Theatre creates live experiences for the modern brain and the adventurous soul. The audience is the storyteller and the driver behind the experience.
  • We design content for theatrical experiences that allow members of the audience to access the different levels of meaning making through participative storytelling, where the performance change from one representation to another and where the spectacular arises from the spontaneous revelations of collective creativity.
  • Can digital bring remote performers into the performance space?


Slide #21 – Content Co-Creation


  • Can you harness local knowledge, interest, skills, creative potential?


Slide #22 – Springsteen & I


Springsteen & I

Screen Grab: Springsteen & I



  • Springsteen & I is a 2013 documentary-biographical film directed by Baillie Walsh documenting the life and career of Bruce Springsteen through the eyes and insights of his fans throughout the world.
  • The documentary brought together the stories and footage provided by Springsteen fans. It was, essentially, a crowd-sourced documentary.
  • What could a crowd-sourced content project look like at the local level? Could a performing arts centre curate a digital story about a place or a local issue?


Slide #23 – Melbourne Spoken Word


Melbourne Spoken Word

Screen Grab: Melbourne Spoken Word website


  • Melbourne Spoken Word is a website and arts organisation with the goal of supporting spoken word and poetic performers and events around Melbourne, Australia, especially the live spoken word and poetry scene. Melbourne has a vibrant culture of poetic performances, open mic nights and poetry slams, most of which is not widely known about in mainstream media. Our goal is to make spoken and poetry visible in this city.

I’ve chosen this example in order to ask three questions:

  • Are the performing arts, as practiced in community theatres,  “participatory”?
  • Is the programming at community theatres broad enough to invite a participation by the broader community, or do they speak to the same niche community again, and again, and again?
  • Can performing arts centres leverage this kind of performance – the spoken word – via digital engagement?

Here’s an example of what’s possible.



Slide #24 – Local Performing Artists Network


  • How can you support your local performance artists through online networks?
  • How do they connect with each other now? Are the connection ‘soft’? Can they be hardened and broadened with your intervention?


Slide #25 – NYPAC Facebook Page


Screen Grab: New York Performing Artists Collective Facebook Page

Screen Grab: New York Performing Artists Collective Facebook Page


  • The NEW YORK PERFORMANCE ARTISTS COLLECTIVE (NYPAC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the production, accessibility, and scholarship of performative and intermedia art. Conceived in 2013 by Fabian Bernal and Samuel Draxler, NYPAC engages the mass of decentralized but networked artistic talent in the New York region through site-specific performances and events, written and curatorial positions, and online and offsite exhibitions. These projects focus on different contexts of bodies and performers, welcoming queer, feminist, and institutional approaches and critiques.
  • The NYPAC Facebook page is one of very few examples of place-based online networking by performance artists.
  • Could a digital space owned and managed by local performing arts centres prove to be a natural home for small scale local networks of artists?


Slide #26 – School Curriculum Support


  • How could you support students studying the performing arts at your local high schools?


Slide #27 – Mark Yeates



  • A solo performance by VCE student, Mark Yeates, in the style of non-naturalism based on the character Dennis Barlow from Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’.
  • Do you celebrate the performances of your exceptional local students by hosting performances of their work?
  • Could you film those performances professionally and share them on your curated digital space (as well as global platforms).


Slide #28 – Global Outreach


  • Can you help bring international performances to your community?


Slide #29 – Digital Theatre


Digital Theatre

Screen Grab: Digital Theatre website


  • Digital Theatre has grown to become the world’s biggest on-demand platform specialising in delivering arts content. With a simple and straightforward objective to make arts accessible regardless of geographical, social or economic boundaries, the team at Digital Theatre have filmed, acquired and distributed the very best in captured live entertainment.
  • Did you know you could watch Dr Who in a performance of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ online for less than two pounds sterling? Neither did I!
  • Could local performing arts centres bring these performances to the community during ‘down time’, when the theatre spaces are not in use?


Slide #30 – Quote


The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.


Slide #31 – The End



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