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Intrinsic Impact and Young Audiences

Most of my work focuses on measuring the immediate impacts of the arts using survey-based audience research. To date, over just a few years, we’ve visualized nearly half a million surveys through the Intrinsic Impact dashboard, processing audience data and feedback for nearly two thousand artistic productions for well over one hundred arts organizations of all sizes. While the bulk of our data collection has been for artistic programs for adult audiences, we are now working with many leading theatres for young audiences as well, including ChildsplayBay Area Children’s TheatreThe New Victory Theater, and Flint Youth Theatre.

In the case of The New Victory Theater in New York, WolfBrown’s Cambridge and San Francisco offices have joined forces to measure the ways in which different kinds of performances (circus, song and dance revues, and narrative dramas) have different profiles of emotional effects. Early data suggests that narrative- or character-driven productions may evoke more intense levels across the emotional spectrum than other types of shows. Our findings may change, though, as we collect more data through surveys of young audience members.

Other companies, such as Childsplay and Bay Area Children’s Theatre, are surveying caregivers and educators for their feedback and are collecting valuable insights into how their work activates creativity and imaginative play among young people after performances. Aggregated data suggest that this particular impact is seen more frequently among younger children, with over half of those with children under 5 reporting some kind of imaginative play inspired by the show. Investigation of how older children may be inspired differently than younger children may yield valuable insights into how TYA practitioners can create even more impactful work for various age groups.

As we continue this work, we will have the opportunity to explore additional hypotheses about the impact of the arts on young audiences. Are there particular characteristics or traits of artistic works that elicit certain short-term impacts more than others? Do productions with more music and more choreography have a different effect, in general, than less musical counterparts? And can data help us better understand why attention to diversity in casting, staffing, and program selection is important for audiences of all ages and backgrounds?

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