Friday, 9 April 2010

Measuring what matters

The Guardian ran a piece today about measuring theatre success. A group of theatre bodies have come up with questionnaire which asks whether the audience felt challenged, or how quickly time seemed to pass whilst they were watching. Their aim is to gauge the audience’s emotional reaction to whatever they were watching.

The Guardian points out that there already number of ways, subjective and objective, to measure theatre success:
  • Box office takings
  • Critical reviews
  • Awards
However, only box office takings, to some degree, measures what audiences think. And that’s an imperfect measure because you might book tickets to see something, but then find it thoroughly disagreeable to watch.

So this questionnaire is really a customer satisfaction questionnaire. What did you, the customer, think of what you saw? Did it move you? Were you absorbed in what was happening on stage? Was it a good evening out? Did it open your eyes to new ideas? All the sorts of questions that the writer or director might want to ask the audience if they had a chance.

This innovative questionnaire is, however, only addressing one aspect of what matters in the theatre – what the customers thought. It doesn’t address what the funders thought, or what tax payers think of arts subsidies. As always, different people will judge success differently.

It taps into the whole question of whether theatre should be subsidised. Whilst many are gripped by a wonderful production of Hamlet or Wagner’s Ring, many would never book tickets in the first place. Yet we believe it important that such works are shown.

It will be interesting to see how audiences react to the questionnaire. Will they complete it? I suspect many will, and will want to share their thoughts.

So is this the start of a wider movement? Will we be asked to complete a questionnaire when we read a book? Did you enjoy the book? Did it absorb you? Did you even get to the end and find the questionnaire ….?


  1. This is interesting because, as of Saturday, I am committed to doing a customer survey for my choir. I have done one before but here we suggested running up some follow up focus groups to get to the bottom of people's attitudes and feelings. I missed the Guardian article; maybe I should include some of these ideas in the questionnaire.

    Customer focus in the arts is a fraught issue because it goes to the root of what the organisation is all about - ie should we be performing the repertory we are performing in the way we are performing it? Maybe that's a reason for doing it.

  2. The previous comment was posted anonymously because it wouldn't let me submit it in my own name. But it's really Michael Dempsey

  3. Hi Mike The voice of the customer takes on a whole new meaning with a choir! The links point to the questionnaires for theatre audiences, and from memory there is some useful material. I think what's most amazing is not how difficult it is to get good customer feedback, but how many organisations just don't gather feedback. So I'm sure your audiences will be delighted to be asked.