Audience and community support is vital to the success of cultural events such as the annual Shakespeare in the Park Festival.
If it were not for this support, the Festival could not go on.
In recent years we have sought feedback to help us in our endeavours to continue to improve the Festival to ensure it remains relevant and of value to the community.
The information provided has proved very interesting reading and has led us to make some changes.
In 2009, the annual USQ Shakespeare in the Park Festival was held in Toowoomba, Queensland for the sixth consecutive year. As part of our evaluation of the event and planning for future ones, an audience research and reception study was conducted. Three sets of data were collected to gain insight into the expectations and perceptions of the Festival, as well as the barriers to attendance. Three kinds of audiences were questioned; non-attenders, those in attendance in 2009, and those who had attended multiple Festivals in the past. Key findings showed that non-attenders had positive expectations of the Festival but were concerned they would not enjoy or understand a Shakespearean production. The impressive sets and costumes, and the outdoor venue, were the central reasons for enjoyment of the Festival for those who attended in 2009. Loyal repeat patrons returned each year to support local initiative and were active in encouraging others to attend.
Members of the public aged eighteen years and over, who had never attended the Festival in the past were encouraged to complete an online questionnaire located on the Festival website. Audiences who attended The Tempest as the mainstage event in the Festival for 2009 were invited to complete an on-site questionnaire during the evening of their attendance. Festival patrons who had attended three or more of the past Festivals in Toowoomba were approached by direct mail to participate in post-Festival focus groups.
Some of the key findings from the study feature here.
Findings from those who have never attended the USQ Shakespeare in the Park Festival included:
- The primary reason for non-attendance stems from concerns that respondents will not enjoy or understand the Shakespearean content.
- The majority have not attended Shakespearean productions anywhere else in the past.
- Although concerned they will not enjoy or understand, primary expectations about the Festival are positive – entertaining, high quality, relaxed, exciting and family-friendly.
- E-marketing is most effective for raising awareness about the Festival to this group of respondents.
- Most do attend other arts and cultural events. Film is the most popular art genre they patronise. Visual art exhibitions are also well-patronised by this group.
- Almost half of the respondents have attended arts events at USQ – primarily visual art exhibitions and concerts.
- Almost two-thirds of the respondents hold professional occupations.
- Over half of the total sample resides beyond Toowoomba’s boundaries.
Findings from audiences at the 2009 Shakespeare in the Park Festival included:
- The majority of respondents enjoyed The Tempest and the Festival.
- The most-enjoyed aspects of the theatre production were the set and costumes.
- Two-thirds of respondents indicated they heard about the Festival through school and via friends. Many of these respondents also indicated they were repeat Festival attenders.
- Just over half of the total respondents attended the Festival with friends and also indicated that they had attended other USQ arts events in the last two years (primarily theatre events).
- The outdoor setting and Shakespearean content attracted attendance.
- The majority agreed that regional tours of the Festival were a good way for USQ to interact with the community. The majority also agreed that USQ’s commitment to regional communities and to young people encouraged them to speak well of the university.
- Over half of the respondents agreed that they were likely to encourage family and friends to study at USQ after their experience of the Festival.
- Two-thirds of the respondents indicated they will speak well of Festival Sponsors due to their valuable support of our event.
- Half of the respondents reside beyond Toowoomba boundaries.
- A third of the total number of respondents attended arts events one to three times a year and indicated they held professional occupations.
Findings from regular USQ Shakespeare in the Park Festival audiences included:
- Over half of the respondents had attended all six Festivals.
- Supporting local initiative and remembering the successful USQ outdoor theatre production of Oedipus in the Toowoomba Quarry were the two primary factors that motivated first-time attendance to the Festival.
- The two most popular reasons for returning to the Festival each year were to support local activities and because their experiences at the previous Festivals were enjoyable.
- General media and the newspaper first attracted most respondents to the Festival. Direct mail (hard copy or email) was the method of promotion about the Festival that they most noticed from year to year.
- All respondents stated the six Festivals’ posters were appealing. The Shakespeare in the Park Festival brand on the poster is what they seek most as this guarantees their attendance (rather than the play chosen and represented on the poster).
- Almost half of the respondents attended the Festival with their families.
- All respondents believed the Festival was appropriately priced. Almost none of them took advantage of the discount ticket offers.
- The location, costumes and student actors were the primary aspects of the Festival the respondents enjoyed.
- All respondents were open to change within the format of the Festival.
- All respondents believed the Festival was an important contribution to the community.
- Two-thirds of the respondents attended other USQ arts events.
The Comedy of Errors was the most enjoyed play of all the Festivals so far, followed closely by Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.
- Seating and lighting in the park needed to be improved to aid visibility, comfort and security.