Adam Taylor, CEO of The Garage in Norwich, talks about his experience at Dublin Theatre Festival.
Well, my first thought - following the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - was that I’m not too sure that the people of Dublin knew that Dublin was hosting a theatre festival in October despite poster and billboard campaigns, or the signs on the sides of venues or busses traversing the city. I reflect on this in a bar, following a show and chatting with the chap who’s poured me a glass of whiskey (a confession at this point - I’m not a fan of Guinness). He confirms my suspicions after he’s rattled through his stock questions about why I’m visiting his city; the look of surprise and amazement as I try to converse over the festival and the shows I’ve seen – he tells me he likes Jazz – so we finish up making polite conversation about music.
That’s something that we can relate to isn’t it? As programmers, producers and marketers how do we tell those around us what’s going on in our spaces, from workshops to performances? The perennial question: how do we reach out to audiences? I will forego the long list of methods of audience development plans and activities, and tell you whatever was happening in the centre of Dublin Theatre Festival was working, because the houses that I sat in were busy and, more often than not, packed. An American-accented audience in the New Jersey-set ‘Ironbound’ at the Abbey Theatre, with the sodden audience members around me sharing their tales of how they got from the US to this studio theatre in Dublin. With multiple school groups sat on benches, shh’ing each other watching a physical performance, ‘Rise and Fall’, as giggles erupt and travel around the auditorium, the children engrossed in animated balloons and two performers playfully engaging us in their production. The gasps of amazement as balloons appeared from boxes as if by magic, floated up and were seized by the performers, and then the sheer delight as they transform into people just by adding a pair of spectacles!
But for me the standout experience, apart from sharing some time with fellow programmers discussing organisational challenges, or moving between venues with Mark telling us about his most recent adventure with the dog, was ‘A Square World’ at Axis Ballymun. It goes without saying that this performance was delivered expertly by Daryl Beeton with support from Jon; this largely non-verbal performance was enchanting and utterly captivating – but also a wonderful lesson in audience development. As we sat in the venue, much like the ones that I work in with colleagues in Norwich and King’s Lynn - a space where their community are at home, with theatre, dance studios and rehearsal spaces, we watch a preschool group of little people in fluorescent jackets arrive. They are buzzing with the excitement of the adventure that they’re about to embark on – and then a parent arrives and joins the group and then another. Not just mums, sometimes two parents, sometimes solo dads. A grandparent and extended family arrive to watch the show too. We then witness this young audience and their families share a profound performance together – organised by this festival, in this community setting, supported by this preschool. Yes, someone’s taken for a change of nappy, others open up a snack in the space and another parent is dispatched to get a drink; but these engaged parents, some young – some less so, help navigate this powerful performance by Daryl and Co. And I feel richer for watching it all - the performance and the audience.