Chris Reed, Artistic Director

5 questions to...

Small Print Toronto stages creative writing workshops and literary events for children and young people. Their programming is designed to inspire them to explore a vital question: How do stories work?

My ‘5 Questions’ explore the no less vital issue of how festivals work, and hopefully provide some answers to that dreaded question: what do festival people do the rest of the year? Chris Reed, founder and Artistic Director, is sharing insights into his daily tasks, learning curve and working style.

 

1. Hi Chris! Totsapalooza was in February, CAKE took place last weekend and The Little City Festival is on June 16. What’s a typical day right now?

One of the best parts about the Small Print Toronto project is that none of my days are ‘typical.’ Things are in a state of constant flux. I’m always juggling concerns that loosely fall into different baskets – future programming, promoting our current programs, stage management, growing the organization, funding (or lack thereof) and so forth.  And I’m fortunate to be surrounded by talented folks with whom I can develop creative responses to such concerns.

2. You’ve been organizing Totsapalooza for 5 years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

Our track record with Totsapalooza gives us some insight into what to expect in terms of audience behaviour and ticket sales. Importantly, though, we are constantly discovering better ways to do things next time around. And even though the show has started to sell out in advance, I still fret about our guest authors and musicians having to perform to a near empty hall.  Those worries stay the same.

3. Before, during or after the festival – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

My favourite moments of any show are usually at the end; comparing notes with my teammates and audience members, and then looking at the photos. Despite the fact that I am surrounded by a remarkably capable crew, I become too consumed by that old stage manager’s dictum – ‘what needs to happen next?’ – to fully enjoy the show while it’s in motion.

4. What other festival would you love to attend as audience member?

I’d probably explode with joy taking part in Roald Dahl Day at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, UK, as an audience member. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, mind you.

5. What are the specific challenges – and rewards – of programming events for children? And what about the parents?

The most rewarding and challenging aspects of programming for children are one and the same: their reactions tend to be brutally candid. Kids will start talking, and even get up and run about if a presentation does not engage them. Conversely, they are quite willing to suspend their disbelief about the most ridiculous premise for a story if you present it to them with sincerity and a sense of respect. By and large, the parents in our audience provide us with constructive feedback about our programming choices. And they are wonderfully supportive of the Small Print TO project as a whole.

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Small Print’s next event is Rhyme Stew Crew, a rap-poetry workshop for children age 8-12. The tagline says it all: “Where Dr Seuss meets Dr Dre”. It’s free, and it’s on Sunday, May 5th – 2-4pm – at the Lillian Smith Library (239 College Street, Toronto).

 

Introduction to Audience Development

Tools of the Trade

I delivered a workshop a little while back called Design a Festival, as part of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival‘s special edition of Trade School Toronto. The objective was to plan an imaginary festival from start to finish, in small teams, to apply the fundamentals of festival planning, delivery and evaluation and understand the challenges of project management.

One major section was dedicated to promotion, starting with audience segmentation. Adapt your message and medium to the audience you want to reach: easier said than done if you don’t know who they are, which is often the plight of small arts organisations, who lack the resources to undertake comprehensive market research.

For the sake of the exercise, I asked the participants to think about audiences in terms of distance: who’s closest, i.e. most likely to come with minimal prompting? What are the bridges between them and the festival: are they already engaged with the art form or with the artists? Are they just the type to never miss such an event?

Conversely, who’s furthest, maybe geographically but also psychologically? And what are the barriers to their participation: Price? Transport? Lack of familiarity with the program? Can these barriers be removed or lowered?

I then asked workshop participants to sketch out a third audience group in the middle, who would come if they got the right incentive – and the real exercise is to figure out how to convert this specific group and to get them to try out your festival. It could be restructuring ticket pricing, partnering with another organisation on presentation and promotion, offering a free open-air event with food vendors, or booking an unmissable headliner: something to make them tick and feel ready to take a risk.

To put this into a wider context, here are two examples of audience segmentation drawn from UK-wide market research, surveying people’s behaviour and values towards the arts.

  • Arts Council England has developed 13 Segments based on behaviour (levels and patterns of engagement with the arts). ‘Bedroom DJ’, ‘A Quiet Pint with the Match’, ‘Urban Arts Eclectic’, ‘Dinner and a Show’, ‘Fun, Fashion and Friends’: these portraits describe what we want to look like when we engage with the arts. ACE recommends to use this segmentation study for strategic positioning (putting the audiences of individual projects, organisations or artforms in context) and for developing initiatives designed to increase public engagement.
  • Manchester-based consultancy Morris Hargreaves McIntyre have taken a different approach for their Culture Segments, studying values and motivations. With names like ‘Affirmation’, ‘Expression’, ‘Release’ or ‘Stimulation’, these types of audiences reflect what we look for in the arts. To see in details how the message and medium were adapted to targeted audiences, Morris Hargreaves Macintyre are providing an online case study on Grayson Perry at the British Museum, where a full campaign was build on 3 segments identified as potential early adopters – and the rest followed in good time.

These segmentation systems are especially interesting if you don’t have full data about your audience – for example because you have a lot of free events – and offer a varied programme in more than one genre or artform. For a North American slant, the Theatre Communications Group has prepared a handy reading list in preparation for their 2013 Audience (r)Evolution Convening.