WHAT IS THE LEGACY OF THE STREET TEAMS?
7 touring theatre productions, 8 consortium venues and many partners later and Black Theatre Live (BTL) will be coming to the end of its’ first phase in 2018; a 3-year programme of national touring, structural support and audience development.
Hardish Virk, Black Theatre Live Audience Development consultant blogs about the benefits of a strategic Street Teams advocacy and ambassadorial model for engaging and connecting with diverse communities for BAME touring theatre across England.
My role has been to support the consortium venues with developing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) audiences on a consultancy and campaign basis with the outreach distribution element working with street teams being the most important part of this work. In the first-year I managed the street teams whilst promoting Macbeth and She Called Me Mother with the last two years focusing on training and advising each venue on developing their own street teams.
There is real value to going out into the heart of a community, having conversations, sharing and learning. Many of the findings of these interactions have been shared in the reports that were compiled for each venue reinforcing why a street team methodology was adopted from the outset.
“…spoke with a female Muslim owner of Shan’s Deli Sandwiches. She was interested in the re-telling of the ‘Macbeth’ story within a South Asian family context. She said that she will inform her family and friends and that she’s interested in attending.” (Macbeth, Outreach Distribution in Newcastle for Queens Hall, Hexham)
“…spoke to a group of Muslim women in the Rotana restaurant (Charminster Road). One of them was the manager who wanted to learn more about the play and she found the themes of homeless, mental health, relationships and women fascinating and on the back of this was happy to display leaflets.” (She Called Me Mother, Outreach Distribution in Bournemouth for Lighthouse, Poole)
STRATEGIC AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT
Strategic audience development is about developing relationships between organisations and the buildings in which they live and the communities they are trying to engage with as a new audience. That requires time, resources and capacity. The lack of capacity has been a real challenge for majority of the venues particularly as the process of a street team model includes research, identification, recruitment, training, management and evaluation. Does this mean the venues have failed in developing their own street teams? No.
Over the last two years each venue has been learning how best to adapt the street team model so that it works within the reality of their capacity and structures whilst meeting their audience development needs. A bespoke approach and strategy had to be developed that was specific to the venue as opposed to the consortium whole which makes a lot of sense given the diverse range of circumstances in which each venue exists.
DEVELOPING QUALITY RELATIONSHIPS
Sending street teams out to engage with communities has been crucial in raising awareness (of the venue and production) and potentially developing new audiences (increasing BAME attendance) but crucially it’s about the quality of relationships and how arts organisations can learn from the experience of speaking with people in their own communities and how they continue that process of learning when these people visit their venues.
The following is a brilliant example of the positive impact of this outreach work (taken from the KIngs College, London, research Outreach Distribution Campaign Report by Stratford Circus Arts Centre for Diary of a Hounslow Girl):
“We spoke to the councillor of East Ham (North Ward) on East Ham High Street…He encouraged us to spread this play with the greater aim of starting more conversations about cultural diversity. He stressed that he is passionate about cultural and multi-faith interactions…He noted that it was important that we were out on the streets interacting with the local community. He mentioned that the local community does not always know about the arts or theatre and said it was really good that we were out and about talking about this play.”
These social interactions with thousands of people have been taking place over the last three years across the country.
It’s important when building on this work that each venue:
- evaluates what has worked, what the challenges and benefits were;
- identifies partners and develops mutually beneficial relationships;
- has a long-term plan which considers realistic capacity, resources and timescale
BESPOKE APPROACH TO STREET TEAMS
As a result, of the bespoke approach, venues have developed their own street team methodology: from setting up ambassadors who participate in street team activity as well as act as venue advocates within their own community; employing the services of partner arts organisations or freelancers with outreach experience which has also alleviated capacity concerns; to staff and volunteers participating in street team activities so that they are developing relevant skills within their own organisation.
Here are some of the comments about the value of outreach shared by members of my Street Team.
“…you are opening up to new audiences and make them realise it’s something they can attend too and also it’s something Asian people do too - create art/ theatre as opposed to running a business or being a doctor!”
“Benefit and value is there is an immediate connection…you can converse in Punjabi, Urdu & Hindi…”
LONG TERM METHODOLOGY
It’s too early to comment on the legacy of the street teams but it’s possible to say that the process of going out into communities, having conversations and developing partnerships as a result has had a positive impact on existing audience development practises and I am sure it has played a significant role in seeing an increase in BAME audiences.
I will leave the final word to Toonika Guha who sums this up perfectly in her report,
‘A Study of the Audience Building Initiatives at Black Theatre Live with Focus on Diary of a Hounslow Girl’, “It may be added, that through the very act of their interaction with the street teams, the community was learning about the venue, even if they were unaware of it previously…the audience outreach in terms of street teams definitely adds to the project of diversification in the arts.”
HARDISH VIRK, AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANT