Matthew Reason

Young Audiences and Live Theatre

One of my earliest pieces of research into theatre audiences explored young people’s perceptions of liveness in performance.

Theatre is frequently defined by its ‘liveness’: that is by how it is performed by live actors appearing on stage before a live audience. This concept of liveness has also become a factor in how theatre is often promoted as a live experience; recent theatre advertisements have included the slogans ‘experience the thrill of a live performance’ and ‘watch the magic come alive on stage’. Yet while the idea of liveness is fairly common, particularly when making contrasts with non-live performances experienced on film or television, exactly what the implications of the concept are in everyday life is far less apparent. Little empirical research exists into the perception and understanding of liveness among actual theatre audiences. Is it possible, for example, to identify a distinct character to audiences’ experience of theatre that is determined by the live nature of the performance? Of course this question is impossibly large, and needs to be reduced to specific contexts and specific audiences in order to provide any sensible kind of answer. This report presents the approach and some of the findings of a research project exploring experiences and understandings of live theatre in terms of one specific audience – teenage school students – in one specific context – a school visit to a production of Shakespeare’s Othello.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this research project asked groups of young people to explore their memories of attending a theatre performance, to talk about their experiences and reflect upon their own responses. What does live theatre mean to them? What are their strongest memories of the experience? What were their responses to their being part of the larger theatre audience? This report presents some of the themes that emerged in response to these questions, revealing the perceptions and kinds of memories that young audience members have of the experience of a school visit to a live theatre performance.

Download project report: Young Audiences Web PDF.

Further Reading:

‘Young Audience and Live Theatre, Part 1: Methods, Participation and Memory in Audience Research’ Studies in Theatre and Performance 26:2 (129-145). 2006

‘Young Audience and Live Theatre, Part 2: Perceptions of Liveness in Performance’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 26:3 (pp 221-241). 2006


This entry was posted on 15 July, 2015 by in .