Community engagement allows for a greater connection and understanding with audiences and potential audiences, extends engagement beyond the performance and can create cultural impact.
Over the last few years, the industry has focused on deepening the connection of the performance to the audience through community engagement activities.
Community Engagement may happen in many ways, including:
- Q and A sessions
- school education programs
Some examples of community engagement include:
- Hosting a Q&A Session with the musicians following a matinee performance of classical music concert. You could also engage a local service organisation in your town (Rotary, CWA, Local School, volunteer group) and have them provide afternoon tea for the ticket holders. This could be sponsored by a local business in town and raise money for the local group too!
- A curtain raiser by a local dance school prior to a touring dance company.
- A singing workshop with a touring singer -could be a focus on a particular element such as microphone technique
- A technical workshop with the touring Stage Manager /Lighting Operator on bump in process and stage managing / lighting a show with the local amateur theatre group enhances their skills for local productions
- Host free book readings (you could work with the local Library), have colouring in activities and morning tea (fairy bread, fruit, juice and tea and coffee for the parents) of a children’s book that is attached to a touring show such as recent touring shows like 52 Storey Treehouse, Wombat Stew, The Little Prince.
The connection with the audience allows for the audience to go on a journey and engage with the work or with the visiting artists often leaving a greater impact.
Engagement with the arts can address social inequality and disadvantage, and create community vitality and shared identity. The community engagement can allow other areas of society to be explored including education, health, the justice system, community building and reconciliation. A community where people participate in cultural activity has greater potential for connection, caring and social development.
Defining your community, who you want to engage with and what the benefit may be is often the most difficult part of the process. A tailored script writing workshop with one of the touring actors for 5 local potential writers has as much value and impact as a drumming workshop catering for all ages and attracting 50 participants.
Funding bodies are looking for this greater impact when funding tours and performance outcomes so it important to understand your community demographics and look at opportunities that you may be able to connect with.
When looking at what community engagement to undertake – speak to the company and explore what opportunities are available often the skills of the touring cast are diverse.
Linking you community engagement back to your programming policy / goals is important so as you can measure the impact on the community and ensuring longer term goals are been achieved.
When looking at the schedule you need to factor in how its going to work and be respectful of the actors times and the art eg ensuring the schedule of the bump in /rehearsal is considered you wont be doing a masterclass two hours before a performance.
Working with targeted groups in the community may have ethical, cultural and legal implications. It is important to do background research about your target group you are planning to work with to avoid any misunderstandings or misgivings. If you are not sure about something related to the engagement or the community group, ask questions. Always act with respect, honesty and clarity.
Also when looking at what kind of engagement that there is a demand and interest. Do the community really want to do it? Is it mutually beneficial? These are important questions to ask. To be successful, projects should engage people and provide a range of meaningful ways for them to be involved.
Need to be conscious of your own resources so as that you can manage these engagement programs as the time involved, marketing and working the program out can be as much as a performance. It is not about doing a masterclass / workshop with every show – 4 great community engagement projects over the year will have a lot more impact than just a lot of workshops.
In Summary or Key Points to remembers for good community engagement:
- Speak to the company about any good ideas that they have, things that have worked previously, resources they can provide
- Integrate planning of engagement activity into the touring conversation at all stages.
- Remember to factor in the time it is going to take for the activity and don’t take on too much
- Think of local groups and others that might be able to partner with you to help create the community engagement for your show or event
Also check out the Audience Connect Website which was a joint project between Circuit West, Lotterywest and Country Arts WA: http://audienceconnect.circuitwest.springbox.com.au/category/audience-development-promotion/
The Australia Council for the Arts also has some great publications regarding research and development of audiences: http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/publications/