New research partnership with the National Theatre

The School is delighted to be working in partnership with the National Theatre to evaluate the organisation’s new Theatre Nation programme.

Theatre Nation is a three-year, in-depth programme focused in six areas of England, which aims to grow audiences and develop engagement in theatre. The programme began in September 2017 and is supported by a grant of £1.16m from Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund, representing around 40% of the total cost, and by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Additional support for individual strands of the project is provided by The Sackler Trust and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Working with local partners, communities and audiences, the programme will encompass large and mid-scale touring, digital and broadcast activity, an extensive learning programme, sustained community projects with people of all ages, and an audience development research project.

The research programme will be led by Dr Ben Walmsley in collaboration with Dr Maria Barrett and Dr Leila Jancovich, under the auspices of the University of Leeds’s new Centre for Cultural Policy and with input from the School’s Audience Experience and Engagement Research Group. The research will involve content analysis of policy and strategy documents, stakeholder analysis, interviews and focus groups with key stakeholder groups (including the National Theatre, the regional theatre partners, teachers, pupils, audiences, community participants and bridge organisations) and deep hanging out with audience and participant groups in the venues concerned.

Dr Walmsley commented: “We are excited by the opportunity to work alongside National Theatre to make a real difference to how a national performing arts organisation engages in a meaningful and sustainable way with audiences outside of London. As a department that specialises in audience research, we are keen to explore how established and emerging ways of understanding audiences’ experiences can make a tangible impact on theatre marketing, arts management and cultural policy.”

This new initiative reflects the National Theatre’s wider objective to support theatre and reach new audiences across the UK through its touring, digital and broadcast and education work. The NT intends that learning from this national programme of activity will inform its future strategies for national work. Importantly there is a strong desire for the learning to also help inform strategies for all partners in the project, and to be shared with the wider sector.

Alice King-Farlow, Director of Learning at the National Theatre said: “We’re delighted to be working with Ben and the team at the University of Leeds as research partners on this major new initiative. They will bring a wealth of research experience, broad methodology and perspectives to the partnership and help ensure that learning from the programmes is shared as widely as possible.”