Theatre and Young Audiences
Submitting InstitutionYork St John University
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Summary of the impact
This case study describes the impact of research into how young audiences
engage with and
respond to live performance.
There are two main areas of impact to this research:
- Enhanced knowledge about how children watch theatre. This knowledge
has impacted on
arts practitioners, schools and cultural policy and brought about change
in the planning,
delivery and understanding of theatre for children.
- New, research-informed, theatre and education resources. Emerging from
insights, structured resources (including print and online) have been
adopted by schools and theatre practitioners. These have changed how
deliver pre- and post-show activities for young audiences.
Research undertaken by Dr Matthew Reason (Reader in Theatre from 2011) is
the focus for
this case study. The research impact is underpinned by a number of
research projects and
publications, including a book The Young Audience: Exploring and
Experiences of Theatre published in 2010 (see section 3.1 below) and
also industry and
education orientated reports and websites (see section 4). Further
includes publications which detail aspects of audiences' aesthetic
experience (3.2 to 3.5) and
theatre in relation to philosophy for children (3.6).
The research has been undertaken through the support of external research
particularly: the Scottish Executive Education Department (Drawing the
An Investigation into Children's Theatre. 2007-8. £9,757) which
enabled qualitative, drawing
based research into children's theatrical experiences to be conducted in
three schools in
Edinburgh and Lothian over six months working with circa 100 participants;
(Watching Dance: Kinesthtic Empathy. 2008-11. £526,493) the scope of which
the case study here but which enabled the research into young audiences to
be extended to
dance. The research has been conducted in collaboration with external
Imaginate, Edinburgh, and the York Theatre Royal, both of whom have
consultancy and project funding into the research.
Reason's research engages with the production and reception of theatre
for young audiences
and has developed specific insights into how children both receive and
interpret theatre. Its
focus is on the intrinsic experience (theatre as theatre) and on
methodologies to enhance young audiences' engagement in the
Reason's research utilises primary qualitative audience research to
uncover how young
audiences watch theatre. This includes new insights into what kinds of
things they notice, how
they interpret what they see and what they recall afterwards. The research
children enjoy engaging with both the theatrical illusion and the stage
reality of a performance.
It reveals that children are actively interested in and enjoy engaging
with how a theatrical
performance is put together (the craft of puppetry, of stage effects, of
acting and so on) and
that rather than spoil the `magic' of theatre, conscious engagement with
these elements can
enhance the experience.
In the context of extending the theatrical experience, the research
reveals that children have strong
theatrical literacies and the ability to decode a performance. At the same
time the research
suggests that the experience is rarely taken beyond the theatrical moment
encouraged. The research revealed that children have an active enjoyment
in talking about their
experiences, and identified a need for post-performance opportunities to
support children to extend
their experience beyond the moment of performance. Drawing on these
outputs, and in conjunction with partners in theatre and education, Reason
has developed a series
of resources (including print, training-based and interactive online
outputs) designed to structure
and facilitate the enhancement of young children's engagement with
References to the research
3.1 Reason, M. (2010) The Young Audience: Exploring and Enhancing
Experiences of Theatre. Stoke: Trentham / Institute of Education
3.2 Reason, M. (2013). `The Possibility of Theatre for Children' in Theatre
for Young Audiences:
A Critical Handbook, Ed. Karian Schuitema and Tom Maguire. Stoke:
3.3 Reason, M. (2008) `Interpreting Children's Responses to Puppets in
Live Theatre: Did you
watch the man or did you watch the goose?', New Theatre Quarterly
24 (pp 337-354).
3.4 Reason, M. (2013) `The Longer Experience: Theatre for Young Audiences
Engagement', in The Audience Experience: A critical analysis of
audiences in the performing
arts, Ed. Radbourne, Glow and Johanson. Bristol: Intellect.
3.5 Reason, M. (2006) `Young Audience and Live Theatre, Part 2:
Perceptions of Liveness in
Performance', Studies in Theatre and Performance 26:3 (pp
3.6 Reason, M (2008). `Thinking Theatre: Enhancing Children's Theatrical
Philosophical Enquiry', Childhood and Philosophy 4: 7.
Details of the impact
The impact of the underpinning research described above relates to:
first, enhanced knowledge
about how children watch theatre; second, the development of new methods
to enhance and
extend young audiences' experience of live performance. Both these
elements have changed
delivery and practice in both arts and education contexts.
1. Enhanced knowledge in theatre and education contexts
The research has had a direct impact on arts practitioners, including
artistic directors of some
of the most significant organisations working with arts and young people.
This includes Tony
Graham, Artistic Director of the Unicorn Theatre, London, who described
Reason's research as
`inspirational' and stated that The Young Audience (3.1) was
`without doubt the most important
book on theatre for young audiences for many years' (5.1). Tony Reekie,
Chief Executive of
Imaginate, described the research as:
A fantastic resource for everyone interested in children's theatre.
groundbreaking research provides fresh insights into children's
experiences of live
theatre which are of great benefit to arts and education communities
across the world.
Helen Nicholson, Professor of Drama, Royal Holloway, details the impact
of Reason's research in
terms of its ability to supply:
...the cultural sector with the elusive evidence of the impact of their
work that they often
need to justify their funding in increasingly lean times.... [Reason]
provides an excellent
argument for including live theatre as part of children's educational
some very useful approaches to classroom practice that will undoubtedly
children's experiences (5.3).
Janet Stanford, Artistic Director of Imagination on Stage, USA, writes
that Reason's research is
`that rare example of a scholarly text that can and should have practical
application in the field'
as it `inspire others to experiment with similar techniques as they
develop post-show lesson
plans of their own' (5.4).
Examples which evidence impact include:
- Material developed by international arts festivals and organisations
acknowledge the impact of Reason's research in shaping their approaches
audiences. Internationally these include the Barbaro International
Festival of Children's
Theatre, Galway, Ireland (5.5) and Teater Centrum, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Continuing professional development workshops for teachers and
workers, conducted with Imaginate, that changed how teachers understood
potential of young children's aesthetic engagement with theatre;
- Adoption of the research report as a key resource by organisations who
have included it
on their webpages, including: Theatre for Young Audiences UK; Young
Theatre, Canada; Imaginate, UK; Forsoegsstationen, Denmark.
The international impact of the research is evidenced by Reason's
invitation to speak at an
Australian Research Council event at Sydney Opera House to an audience
Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare, Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre
Theatre Co and Queensland's Performing Arts Centre. Reason also delivered
a keynote address
for the Australia Council to an industry audience on engaging young
audiences (5.7). The reach of
the research is indicated by its coverage in reviews, blogs and other
media (including the Sydney
Morning Hearld and Huffington Post).
2. New Methods for Engaging Young Audiences
The second strand of impact emerges directly from the first, but
continues from knowledge of
how children watch theatre to the strategic development of methods
designed to be used by
arts practitioners and educationalists to enhance young audiences'
theatrical experiences. This
includes the development, dissemination and implementation of a range of
resources (5.8) in
cross-media platforms to national and international audiences.
`Evaluating the Performing Arts' is a downloaded resource pack that
facilitates discussion and
debate about theatre among young children. The document was written in
Reason (who also wrote the Foreword) with specific sections on drawing and
discussions developing directly from Reason's underpinning research.
`Talking about Theatre' is an interactive online resource for schools, in
which children are
guided through an intuitive animated process of theatre criticism and
discussion. The resource
was developed through £40,000 of Co-Create Arts Funding and draws upon
In prompting and shaping Imaginate's development of these resources,
Reason's research directly
impacted upon and changed the activity of a major organisation with an
international reputation for
the development of the performing arts for young people. These resources
have since had direct
and significant impact on the practices of artists working with theatre
for young audiences and
teachers working in the class room. Susanne Batchelor, of Scottish Borders
Development team said that the resources `Fill a gap in terms of extending
the experience back in
the classroom [and are] a very accessible and fun way of engaging pupils
in the critical evaluation
of their theatre experiences. (5.9)
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1. Artistic Director, Unicorn Theatre, London (1997-2012)
5.2. Chief Executive, Imaginate, Edinburgh
5.3. Review of The Young Audience (output 3.1) in English in
Education. Vol 45. No 1. 2011.
5.4. Review of The Young Audience (output 3.1) in TYA Today. Vol.
25. No. 1. 2011.
5.5. Baboro Teachers Post Activity Pack. `Draw and talk is a method taken
from a study by Dr
Matthew Reason of York St John University called Drawing the Theatrical
5.6. Project by Teater Centrum (Copenhagen, Denmark) `Theatre Experience'
drawing on theatre performance which took inspiration and methodology from
research. Report available :www.cblanche.dk/download.asp?id=81&fileext=.pdf
5.7. Keynote address to Australia Council for the Arts. 2011.
5.8. Resources produced by Imaginate drawing upon the research.
Evaluating the Performing
Arts: a step by step guide; Talking About Theatre, interactive online
5.9. Creative Learning Manager, Scottish Borders Council
5.10. Associate Director, York Theatre Royal