Research Question: If invited, to what extent will an audience engage with a participatory art event?
Through my work in this PaR course, I hope to explore various ways to engage audience members actively within the context of a performance. This desire stems from a hunch that activating the audience at different points in a performance event (before, during, after, and/or later) will produce different levels of engagement with the performance material (themes, concepts, narratives, etc.). Additionally, I wonder if active engagement in all four stages of a performance event will cause (or correlate with) audience members’ continued engagement with the themes/concepts/narratives of the performance in their every day lives.
Figure 1. Selections of Audience-Participants’ work in Something to Chalk About?
From our initial readings (Bolt, Lee & Polland, Pearson, and Kershaw, et. al) curiosities have developed around
- intimacy and authenticity with an audience,
- blurring the relationship between performer and audience
I knew that I wanted to design an initial project that invited the audience to share something of themselves – a message for others, a meaningful quote or image, a thought about their day, etc. – but was not quite sure how to elicit this in a performative manner without a “captive” audience in a room together. However, I happened to see a performance entitled Chalk About at IPAY the week prior and it planted the seed of the methodology I would use.
During a workshop with Chalk About’s choreographer, Christine DeVaney I learned about her process of devising this dance piece for young audiences. She and partner-choreographer, Leandro Kees, had never met before being thrown in a rehearsal room together and told to make something. They began with an exchange of question-asking and verbal/dance response, which eventually layered to a duet-question/answer exchange, and finally one partner tracing a body part of the other with chalk while still engaging in this question/answer exchange. From DeVaney’s method, I incorporated the invitation to chalk and talk with the audience and audience/performers during the course of the performance.
In order to work in “micro” scale for this first project, I looked back at my initial practice in developing project design from hunches:
In reviewing this initial mind map stemming from the question, “How do you create opportunities to acknowledge humanity in your audience?” I played with re-wording and refining this larger conceptual question:
- What is the role of reciprocity when developing a relationship with an audience?
- Is sustained engagement with an audience [of strangers] dependent on an exchange of some kind?
- If given a clear invitation, to what extent will people engage with a participatory art event?
Landing on this final question I arrived at scale that could be achieved in this first micro project. I sketched out a design for a side-walk chalk engagement event. I created 4 statements of invitation which would become the four borders of the performance space:
- Something to Chalk About?
- Take a Break and Create!
- Let’s Chalk About Your Day
- Admire, Inspire, Inquire
Next to each of these invitations I wrote a social media hashtag that I had verified had no previous existing posts attached to it: #asuchalks. By including this hashtag, I hoped to invite audience and audience-participants to engage with the performance in another dimension, through social media. In order to create some sense of hospitality within the performance and minimize obstacles to participation, I planned to leave chalk at various intersections of the sidewalk squares to keep the means of participation easily accessible. I also planned to bring hand-wipes that would be placed in the center of the performance space for anyone who wished to wipe their hands after participating.
I wanted to set the performance on ASU’s campus at a site with a large volume of people gathered, but not one that would literally stop all traffic. Ultimately I settled for the intersection of Hayden mall and the Memorial Student Union. This area often has various groups tabling and I knew people would be used to stopping and talking if they chose too.
With the performance elements designed, I needed to decide on how I would assess the engagement and effectiveness of the invitation strategy. I settled on four points of engagement that I would measure during the performance:
- Active looking: audience member had to show visible signs of persistent gaze at the performance and/or the performance space. (Audience)
- Participation: through drawing/writing in or around the performance space. (Audience-Participant)
- Talking with others: either with me (Performer-Host) or with the audience-participants as they participate. (Audience-Inquirer)
- Posting a picture/video: to social media and tagging with #asuchalks. (Audience-Poster)
I created a chart in my journal that I would use to tally interaction throughout the performance.