Episode #2 – Creating Cultural Engagement 101

In our first episode, we shared The New Victory’s success story about cultural engagement and by now, we hope you agree that deepening and broadening audience experiences doesn’t start when the curtain rises, and instead, should be part of a bigger strategy.

But where you do start and how do you create content for a successful audience engagement program?

TA DA! Let’s introduce you (again) to Lindsey Buller Maliekel, The New Victory’s Director of Education and Public Engagement, aka ‘the cultural engagement queen’.

Talk to the artists before creating any engagement activities.

1/Get in touch with the artists

The first step before you even start brainstorming what your activity will look like, is to get in touch with the performing artists.

“It’s very important to talk to the artists before creating any engagement activities. Please do not create engagement activities without talking to the artists beforehand.” insists Lindsey

A couple of months before their show hits your venue, she recommends asking them the following question to tailor your activity the best you can:

  • What do they want the audience to know before the show?
  • Is there anything they don’t want to give away before the show?
  • How do they want the audience to enter their show?
  • What are the things they experimented with when creating the show?
  • Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
  • Have they done any pre-show activities in another venue that worked well?
  • And finally, how can you mess it up, so you stay away from it?

2/ Partner with teaching artists

While most of the companies now offer audience engagement as part of their package, it can be quite exhausting for performing artists to run pre-show engagement activities alongside their already tight and busy touring schedule. That’s the reason why Lindsey decided to work with local artists to deliver her cultural engagement activities. For each performance, she brings in an artist from her area who specialises in the art form that is most relevant to what the show has to offer, and together with her team, have fun for a couple of hours developing some very cool activities. And here is how they brainstorm:

  • What is so special about this show?
  • What about this show can we break down into pieces to be more accessible for everyone?
  • What theme/topic can be impactful to explore?
  • What would be really cool to walk into? What kind of aesthetic experience can we offer prior to the show?
  • How can we help the performing artists convey what they are aiming to?

Engage with local artists from your community.

3/ Follow the guiding pillars

Over the years, Lindsey has developed a matrix and identified key elements that contribute to a successful cultural engagement strategy. These are the six ‘guiding pillars’, as she calls them, that each activity has to address:

  • Play – let’s spark your imagination and have fun!
  • Art form – let’s explore and experiment the art form you’re about to see on stage!
  • Create – let’s boost your creativity!
  • Arts for all – Everybody is welcome, no matter what your abilities are!
  • Community – Meet some of the artists from your community!
  • Discovery – let’s learn something new and trigger questions!

4/ Crash-test your activity

Now comes the exciting phase that she calls ‘activation’, where she invites FOH staff to join her to drive-test the activity.

“Never put something in the foyer until you’ve actually tested it and KNOW it’s interesting and fun.”

“If you skip this step you will end up with BAD engagement!” warns Lindsey

Make sure your activity is fun and interesting.

If your activity is too good, adults won’t go to the show.

5/Be careful about what you wish for!

Make sure the activity is aligned with the show, and what you are doing is there to set up the show to be more successful. You should also know what to do if your activity becomes so popular, it takes over the show.

Lindsey recalls a time when they ran an African fabric workshop before a show. It was so successful that people, in particular the adults, didn’t want to leave the activity to go the show.

“If the art form is too good, adults don’t want to go to the show.says Lindsey.

“Either make the activity longer (2 hours) or scale it down.” recommends Lindsey.

6/ Bonus: The buffer effect

If you follow Lindsey’s advice, chances are that you will end up with a very strong audience engagement strategy that will not only nurture your audiences, but also increase the impact the art form you are presenting will have on them.  You might also find that sometimes your engagement activity will have a ‘buffer effect’. Some people might say to you “I didn’t really like that show, but I still had a great experience as a whole.” and that, my friends, is a bonus!

What matters is the overall experience.

More tips

  • Create a profile on your website/blog for each teaching artist you collaborate with to help leverage their profile.
  • Did you learn some cool stuff about the show or the company when talking to the performing artists in the lead up? Spice up the show page on your website with some fun facts;
  • Develop and share extra activities for each show via your blog/website and social media that families can do at home prior to the show to enhance their experience even more;

Now that we’ve got your cultural engagement strategy sorted, how about we give you some tips on how to activate your foyer and make the most of your space to further enhance your audience’s experience?

Stay tuned for our third and last episode on how to spruce up your venue coming up next week!

Performing Lines acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work – the Gadigal in Sydney, the Whadjuk in Perth, and the Muwinina in Hobart – and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

We extend those respects to all First Nations peoples on whose lands we travel and perform.