Monday, January 14, 2008

There's No Such Thing as Bad Macbeth?

The following is from a just released study by Wolf Brown on the intrinsic impacts of the live performance. The study surveyed and interviewed audiences for 19 different live performances, tracking the performances through multiple venues.

Outstanding on the other end of the spectrum is the audience for Macbeth, of which 31% indicated that they were disapppointed with the perfomance. Despite this high level of disappointment, 60% of Macbeth respondents said that the program was worth their investment of their time and money. This compares to 80% on
average, for respondents at all other performances.

Among respondents who were disappointed with the performance (i.e. a response of 1 on a scale of 1 to 5), only 12% said that it was worth their investment of time and money. However among those whose level of disappointment with the performance was somewhat less acute(i.e. a response of 2 on a scale of 1 to 5 - still below the
mid-point of the scale), 59% said that it was still worth their investment. In other words one might argue that a healthy dose of dissatisfaction is tolerated before respondents feel that the experience was a bad investment.

This raises some important questions. Are respondents broad minded enough to understand, as one might hope, that arts experiences can be worthwhile even when you're disappointed with the performance? Or, are they biased in justifying their decision to attend, post facto? We hypothesize that an audience member's satisfaction level relates not only to his or her subjective beliefs about the quality of the performance, but also to a more subliminal need to validate the decision to attend and thereby justify the 'sunk costs' of attending (i.e. time and money already spent). Further research is necessary to determine if respondents believe the performance was a worthwhile investment because they were already confident that they'd enjoy it or if respondents were confident they'd enjoy the because they had already made the investment of time and money - in essence justifying their investment before experiencing the performance.

Perhaps they could partner with Hotel Pay Per View Porn networks for the "further research" into this question?

Hat tip to Andrew Taylor at the Artful Manager for the link to the study.


Scott Walters said...

I am puzzled as to what you are getting at with your comments here. While I haven't read the entire report, I did read the 21-page executive summary, which had a lot of really good things for people to think about. This production of Macbeth was produced by The Acting Company. And while the report really works to try to keep open all possibilities, the weasel under the cocktail table (as Pinter once said) revolve around two possible conclusions: 1) this production was a real stinker -- Brook's Deadly Theatre to the max, or 2) how the hell cares about Macbeth at the moment? As heinous as it is to say it (given I teach theatre history), I suspect both conclusions are correct, and the second is probably most influential. Audiences are drawn to Macbeth because they trust the playwright, but once they get their they find the play doesn't really connect to them, doesn't engage them. Like I say, this study actually has a great deal to say to theatre people, and I recommend people read the Executive Summary.

Art said...

Hi Scott,

I hope you aren't thinking I am dismissing the study. I was only joking about this particular section. (If I have to explain the joke that means it wasn't funny, so I apologize.)

This section, on satisfaction, starts on page 65 of the report and has to do with the tightrope arts organizations, and indeed corporations, walk between customer input and innovation.

I agree with you that the report seems to be tiptoeing around the subject that the Macbeth performance by The Acting Company was, possibly, a stinker. But what is interesting, is just what I am quoting here: Even when people have a bad time they are telling people it was a worthwhile experience.

If you read through the report the evidence of just how much people didn't like the Macbeth keeps mounting until, (and even the researchers are a little puzzled,) the audiences are saying that they found it was worth the investment of their time and money.

It's not me that's saying it worth more research into this question, it's the reports authors.