performing impact

work in progress

evaluating artistic and social outcomes

We began our project knowing that much of the summative evaluation that was conducted on the impact of community theatre focused on social outcomes. We knew that artistic outcomes were often left out of these evaluations. We also knew that social science literatures were most often used to explain these outcomes, and so we set out to see what in the arts and humanities literatures might be useful in addressing the artistic.

We became clear during the workshop with practitioners that there was not a simple and neat problem about the artistic versus the social. Rather, we came to see, there were a set of issues. Here we want to signal some of these.

(1) Different community theatre companies place different emphases on the artistic and the social. There is not a universal or common approach. One company might also change the emphasis they place on social and the artistic outcomes depending on the funder and the nature of the project.

(2) Community theatre companies usually have artistic aims which they state up front in their submissions for funding. However, when they are undertaking mandatory summative evaluations for funders, these aims are either scantily documented, and often they are not required to be accounted for at all. By contrast, numbers of audience and participants are always required information. If the funding has social aims, these are also always required areas for documenting and reporting. It is also usual for arts funders to ask for evidence that the company has tried to obtain audience response via surveys, postcards, twitter or some other such means. However, the artistic goals are usually downplayed in formal summative evaluations. If there has been an external critic attending a performance, this may end up being the major evaluation of a project’s artistic merit.

(3) The verbal divide established between the artistic and the social does not mirror what actually happens. It is the artistic processes and performance which produces the social outcomes. The artistic process may be the attractor for some participants, but as often, participants come to community theatre for mixed reasons. However, once there, an artistic process is often the key to staying involved.
Artistic practice – such as coming to terms with playing a character who is not yourself, stepping out of yourself to empathise and represent another person, performing so as to communicate a character’s experience, motivation and humanity – may have profound and transformative social as well as artistic effects. The two cannot be readily separated.
Community theatre practitioners are highly skilled and knowledgeable about how to use artistic practice to maximize these personal/social outcomes. For instance, scripts can be written as sets of stand-alone scenes which can be rehearsed separately and then come together as performance. This kind of theatrical narrative structure allows large numbers of people to participate while avoiding the impracticalities of finding enormous spaces for rehearsal until the final rehearsals. At the coming together point, people involved in individual scenes experience being part of a much greater whole – one of the fundamentals of team work, and perhaps also democratic process.

We think that there is much more to be done around the question of artistic process and outcomes and we are keen to develop this aspect of our work further.


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