In 2022, Common Ground Arts Society with Catch the Keys Productions engaged Dr. Kelsie Acton and interviewer Simone Medina Polo in a research process for pre-performance information in live performance. Interviews were conducted with audience members for Catch the Keys Productions’ ren & the wake. We extend our appreciation to the Canada Council for the Arts for their support of this research.
In 2020, the Edmonton Performing Arts Accessibility Ad Hoc Group released a report intended to map the access needs of Edmontonian audiences against performing arts companies’ access provisions to identify gaps. The report revealed a striking finding – there was very little consensus among the companies that filled out the survey or who were interviewed in what pre-performance information they shared with audiences. The report did not ask how companies shared pre-performance information.
Good information is vital to access. There is very little more disappointing than making plans, purchasing tickets, getting yourself to a performance and discovering that you cannot access it, or accessing it will be painful or harmful to yourself. More than that, good information about a performance addresses a wide range of needs that go beyond disability – everyone from parents who need to know what time an event ends to relieve the babysitter, to people calculating the time their journey will take, to more recently, people with immunocompromised loved ones weighing the risks of COVID exposure – need information about performances before they purchase a ticket.
Immersive and site responsive performance companies are, by necessity, experts in providing audiences with information before they arrive. They may ask audiences to venture to a new or unusual part of town, hike through the woods, or explore a historic building, all while adjusting the conventions of audience-performer interactions. They cannot rely on familiar structure to help audiences understand where they need to go or what they need to do. Two site responsive performance companies partnered with Dr. Kelsie Acton on this research, Catch the Keys Production and Common Ground Arts Society. This project had two objectives:
- To better understand audiences’ experiences of the pre-performance information for ren & the wake, a musical exploring grief, memory and materiality. In particular, the producers were interested in understanding audiences’ experiences of content information, sensory information (about lights, sound, smells, temperature, etc.) and COVID safety protocols.
- To map current practices across a number of performing arts companies in Edmonton to better understand what kind of information they communicate with their audiences before audiences arrive, how they communicate it and why.