This essay reexamines the role of empirical research in scholarship on spectators. Within the context of political debates in the UK about cultural value and, in particular, the value of the performing arts in relation to other claims on public funding, it reports on attempts to counter the historical battle between instrumental and intrinsic value with new information on what spectators actually value in their theatregoing experiences. After reviewing public-policy debates with regard to these questions, the essay moves on to describe a research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council during 2013–14 on “Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution” (TSVA). The objectives of TSVA were to drill down into audience experiences of attending theatre, focusing on phenomenological self-description and analysis in order to understand how those specific experiences were valued (or not) by spectators. The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Young Vic, and the Theatre Royal Plymouth (Drum) collaborated with researchers to study spectators in relation to fourteen productions. Surveys, structured interviews, and creative workshops were employed to collect the data. TVSA also investigated whether changes occur in audience spectators’ thinking about their theatre experience over time. The project found that sociality is interwoven with value in theatre experiences, and that social interaction, stimulating thought, and connections to spectators’ lives and the world are deeply valued attributes of the sample. The essay concludes with an appraisal of the research results and suggestions for future research that would combine empirical with analytic methods.


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pp. 337-361
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