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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Preliminary study of theatre audiences Warren, Sarah Meyler

Abstract

This project attempts to establish a base for future work in theatre audience research. The project was a survey of audience expectations of, and reactions to theatrical productions. Two specific aspects are examined. These are (1) the relationships between audience expectations and reactions and (2) the effect on audience response of a series of productions. In addition, the data was examined to discover general trends in audience attitudes, in so far as this was possible in so small a group. Three Vancouver productions were chosen for the purpose of the survey. These were the Frederic Wood Theatre production of As You Like It, the Playhouse production of Tango, and the Dorothy Somerset Studio production Inside the Ghost Sonata. Thirty-six participants were divided into three groups of twelve each. Each group was divided by age and sex, half being under twenty-five years of age. This division did not reveal any significant trends. The participants were examined by a series of questionnaires. The first was the General Questionnaire, which assessed each individual's background, outlook and experience of the theatre. The second was the Pre-Production Questionnaire which they completed before each production. Its purpose was to elicit an indication of their expectations. The third was the Post-Production Questionnaire, which concentrated on the participants' response to each production. The relationships between expectations and reactions and the cumulative effect of attendance on response are discussed at length in this paper. After an examination of the data, one important trend appeared. Apparently, the participants assimilate and evaluate theatrical productions according to a rigid and firmly established frame of reference. This does not always coincide with their enjoyment and it seems to inhibit critical and objective response. Future work might discover how prevalent this frame of reference is, its nature and its influence. There is an indication of a relationship between the fulfillment of expectations about a play's type and intention and the subsequent enjoyment and approval of the production. There is also some suggestion that the participants subconsciously interpret the performance to fit their expectations of the play's type and intention. The main cumulative effect of continuous exposure to productions appears to be the maintenance and reinforcement of the pre-established frame of reference. Specific points about audiences and audience response which deserve more extensive study are presented in the Conclusion of this paper. These include questions about the composition of audiences, audience expectations, attitudes to acting, costumes and scenery, and participants' frame of reference and general response to productions.

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