You’ve got to be there. That’s the thought that rooted me as I left the production of Dr Dee at ENO last Friday – while the rest of my mind and body were floating somewhere up above the firmament. And no, drugs didn’t come into it (well, a small glass of Rioja). It was the impact of sharing space with an exciting artistic concept very well executed by committed and enthused performers. I’ve had similar moments of elation from Nigel Kennedy’s performance at the Southbank Centre, or LSO playing Beethoven’s Fifth with extraordinary verve.
And I’ve left places with quite the opposite feeling after ho-hum renditions. But I guess, unless you go, you won’t realise the difference.
It’s very easy for us arts marketing – audience research – audience development people to get buried in statistics and geodemographic descriptions to help organisations find, appeal to and keep audiences. But it’s the sheer soaring, visceral experience of art that shakes a person and will make them talk about it and return – or not. A friend’s recent introduction to contemporary dance was Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells. She won’t return. It was just too extreme for her, though on paper she should have been a perfect match.
So it’s crucial that we keep going to see art AS the audience. Not under special invitations to private views and press launches, when it’s a wonder if the art gets a look in – and the reactions all around are of industry insiders. No, we need to be there side-by-side with the audience, as the audience, to find out what the audience’s response really is.
But then there’s the cost – but that’s for another day.