“Seeing Dance, Talking Dance”: Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

Organization Name: Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

City: Becket

Program Name: “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance”

Time of Program: “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” is designed to engage audience members from the moment they arrive through the end of their visit.

Program Length: Audience Chats are 30-60 minutes. Post-ShowTalk videos posted online are 15-20 minutes in length.

Goal: “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” aims to steward a deeper appreciation for all forms of dance and experiences with dance through social bonding and person-to-person interaction. The value of co-learning and communicating with like or differently-minded people creates a culture of curiosity. “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” is designed to create a community that is safe, stimulating, and enjoyable, and to build relationships with dance that are long-lasting.

Time of Year Offered: The essay and videos are available online. Thought Starters and Audience Chats take place during the Festival, June-August.

Program Description:

In 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival launched “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance”, a multiple touch point initiative designed to stimulate and support meaningful peer-to-peer conversations among audiences about dance. “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” is comprised of a new series of engagement activities that inspire a culture of curiosity about dance and support co-learning and communication about the art form among like and differently-minded people. Four elements comprise the initiative:

(1) Essay – Invitation to the Dance
Invitation to the Dance, an essay written by Jacob’s Pillow Executive and Artistic Director Ella Baff, includes her observations and guideposts for seeing dance, and distillations from the book, “Presenting Dance,” which was based on five years of research and discussion at the National Dance Presenters Leadership Forums at Jacob’s Pillow. The essay encourages both novice and expert dance-goers to articulate their experience of dance to themselves and others. The text is segmented into easy-to-digest sections such as Check your preconceptions at the door; Trust yourself; Multiple ways of understanding; and Looking is learning. The essay is included in the weekly programs for both theatres during the Festival, reaching an estimated 45,000 ticket buyers. A downloadable PDF version is also available online at jacobspillow.org.

(2) Thought Starter Discussion Prompts
A set of thought provoking questions designed as sparks for deeper conversations about dance are posted throughout campus on information bulletin boards, in the bathrooms, in dining locations, and in performance programs. Visitors are encouraged to discuss their experiences throughout the day, at meals, while having drinks after the show, at Audience Chats, or in the car on the way home.

(3) Audience Chats
Audience members are invited to share and process their impressions of a performance they’ve just attended over complimentary drinks. “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” prompts help stimulate discussions facilitated by staff and interns. Artists are not present during these post-performance audience forum gatherings. Importantly, the facilitator’s role is to guide conversation rather than asserting a point of view as “the expert”. Real-time tweet highlights of Audience Chats are posted through the Pillow’s Twitter page to stimulate online conversations about dance.

(4) Extend the Conversation – Post-Show Talks Video Emails
Attendance at live Post-Show Talks with Artists during the Festival has increased steadily over the years, and regular attendees relate they learn a great deal from them and “feel included”. With this new initiative, audience members receive a thank you email, within a few days of attending a performance, with a link to an HD video Post-Show Talk and performance programs including PillowNotes (commissioned essays from Scholars) and “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” prompts.

Number of Participants: (1) The essay, Invitation to the Dance, was distributed to 45,000 ticket buyers in 2014 in performance programs, and also distributed online at jacobspillow.org, all thank you emails, and on the Pillow’s social media. (2) Thought starter questions are seen on campus by approximately 64,000 audience members and free events attendees. (3) Audience Chats drew a total of 199 attendees over 2 seasons: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 Cedar Lake: 31. Wednesday, July 24, 2013 L-E-V: 70. Wednesday, August 14, 2013 Wendy Whelan: 45. Sunday, July 13, 2014 Dance Theater of Harlem: 9. Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Dance Heginbotham: 17. Sunday, August 10, 2014 David Rousséve: 2. Wednesday, August 13, 2014 Companhia Urbana de Dança: 6. (4) Post show video views total 22,273 over two platforms (Facebook and YouTube) as of August 28, 2014.

Target Audience: The Pillow’s “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” initiative seeks to engage all audience members, regardless of prior knowledge or experience with dance. We hope that dance presenters, educators, and artists will find this information useful in reaching both novice and expert dance-goers and helping audience members to articulate their thoughts and reactions to dance; thus, enhancing and enriching the experience of audience members and ultimately building a broader, more diverse audience for dance.

Private/Public Public

Nature of Audience Engagement: Audience members participate through self-selection: (1) Patrons may choose to read Invitation to the Dance while on campus or after they have left. (2) Thought Starter discussion prompts and in-program questions are designed to stimulate conversation among audience members while they are on campus or after they have left. (3) Patrons are invited to attend the Audience Chats during a pre-performance announcement in the theatre and signs are posted outside of Blake’s Barn announcing the Chats. (4) Links to Post-Show Talk videos are emailed to ticket buyers, as well as posted on the Pillow’s various social media outlets. Audience members can choose when and where to watch the videos.

Location: “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” activities take place on the Jacob’s Pillow campus in the Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts and online. (1) The essay is included in every program for all 20 season artists in the Ted Shawn and Doris Duke Theatres, which are handed out upon entry to the theatre. (2) Thought Starter discussion questions are available throughout campus on information bulletin boards, in the bathrooms, in dining locations. Artist-specific questions are included in all 20 performance programs. (3) Audience Chats take place in Blake’s Barn, the Pillow’s exhibit space. (4) Post-Show Talks are posted online and a link is emailed to ticket buyers.

How Many Staff: The Pillow designated 5-7 staff members and 5-10 interns to implement “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” activities: • 2 staff members: Administrative and logistical duties including program design and implementation planning, scheduling, budget tracking, Audience Chat set up, Audience tracking, Chat Guide training, interim and final reporting, database survey, webinar participation, conference attendance, site visits, and general oversight; • 2 staff members: Video production, online engagement, and tracking; • 2 Pillow Scholars in Residence: Post-Show Talk moderation; • 5-10 interns and staff members: Audience Chat Guides, event greeters, event setup. Because the audience attendance has been widely varying, we have staffed the events for 50-70 participants each Chat. One Chat Guide per 6 audience members is ideal.

Program Cost: “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” activities were an expansion of the Pillow’s nationally recognized Audience Engagement program. We find that most engagement activities tend to not have large direct costs but do require considerable staff time and effort. In total, direct dollar costs were approximately $9,300, cost of staff time was approximately $44,000. (1) The essay was printed and stuffed in programs for two seasons. The direct cost of printing and stuffing for 2014 was approximately $4,000. (2) Thought Starter prompts signs and key chains were printed and laminated in house, so direct costs were low, approximately $50. (3) Audience Chats required managerial time to organize logistics, and with an unpredictable number of audience attendees, each Chat required up to 10 facilitators to be ready. Complimentary wine was estimated to cost a total of $250 for 7 Chats. (4) The production of Post-Show Talk videos represented a substantial portion of the project expenses at $5,000.

Marketing for Program: Seeing Dance, Talking Dance materials are available and visible throughout the Pillow campus, and all audience members who attend a ticketed performance receive a copy of Invitation to the Dance. In addition, all ticket buyers receive a link to watch the Post-Show Talk in a thank you email following the run of the performance they attended. Audience Chats are included in the season brochure, mailed to 55,000 people and on racks throughout the region and on campus. Audience members are invited to attend the Audience Chat during the Executive and Artistic Director Ella Baff’s curtain speech. Signs are posted outside of the theater as well as outside of Blake’s Barn with information about the Audience Chat. Dates for the Audience Chats are listed in the performance programs as well as on the back of the Invitation to the Dance essay.

Cost for Program Participants: There is no cost to participants.

Attendance To Date: Audience Chats: 199. Invitation to the Dance: 80,000. Post-Show Talk Videos: 22,273.

Past Iterations: ”Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” took place over two Festival seasons at Jacob’s Pillow, in summer 2013 and 2014.

What works? The Pillow attributes the success of “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance”, in part, to the multi-touch point design of the program. The broad accessibility of resources made it possible for patrons to interact with the program on a level that matched their comfort, knowledge and interest in dance. We believe the casual, low barriers-to-entry, low-risk nature of the activities was also appealing to participants. The framework for “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” served as a toolkit for audience members to engage with dance and they had a range of opportunities to put those tools to use in an environment that was safe and supportive. We know from past experience that patrons want an opportunity to discuss the work they’ve seen, but may feel inhibited by the presence of the artists or others perceived as “experts”. The Audience Chats were a particularly effective mechanism for encouraging conversation about dance.

What doesn't work? Following the conclusion of year one, the Pillow reexamined two aspects of “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” in an effort to engage audience members more fully in the program. During year one, Audience Chats were held following the opening night for three companies during the Festival. Chats began around 9:30pm on Wednesday evenings. Responses from audience members indicated Chats were too late and that many patrons who might have an interest in attending were not able to due to the time and day of week. During year two, the Pillow offered a wider variety of dates and times for Audience Chats, hosting two Audience Chats on Wednesday evenings and two Audience Chats on Sunday afternoons. Audience Chat attendance was low during the 2014 season. Our hypothesis is that attendance was related to how late the show got out, and the weather, which is a strong factor in our rural location where rain can cause flooding and felled trees as well as difficult driving conditions. After long shows, and when there was threatening weather, patrons rushed to their cars. Additionally, during year one, Audience Chat Guides were instructed to refrain playing the role of expert during conversations. Moderators were asked to avoid delivering direct answers to basic questions regarding dance. This approach was intended to empower participation, and was founded in the fact that the Pillow separately provides a great deal of expert opinion in other audience engagement efforts such as Pre-Show talks led by our Scholars-in-Residence, PillowNotes which are commissioned essays about each performance that appear in programs, and moderated interviews with the artists, their collaborators, and other experts. Chat Guides found this approach to be awkward and to detract from the flow of conversation. During year two, Guides were instructed to give brief answers to basic questions about dance, dance history, terminology or choreography, if they knew the answer, and to then gently move the conversation back to the audience members’ thoughts and reactions to the performance. Allowing the moderators to answer basic questions did facilitate a more natural flow in the conversation that followed. Guides did, however, find it necessary to be cautious of audience members becoming interested solely in learning about the Guide’s experience with dance instead of focusing on discussing the work they had just seen.

Performances Where Offered: (1) The essay was distributed at all dance performances. (2) The Thought Starters were at all dance performances. (3) Audience Chats are only offered at specific performances. The performances selected represent the broad spectrum of dance presented at the Festival. We intentionally choose some work that we anticipated would be more challenging for audience members, as we anticipated this work would evoke a strong desire to engage in a dialogue about the performance experience. We also clustered some of the Chats to happen in consecutive weeks to build momentum and repeat attendance with patrons who participated in the discussions. (4) The Post-Show videos were distributed for all dance performances. All other “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” activities are offered during all Pillow performances.

Past Research on Program: At the conclusion of year one the Pillow conducted an online survey to gauge impact and reactions to “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” activities. The survey was sent to all 2013 ticket buyers who are also on the Pillow’s email list – a total of 6,826 patrons. Of the ticket buyers who opened the email, 24% or 498 people, responded to the survey. When asked about how “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” activities affected their visit to the Pillow, 27% had a more satisfying experience watching dance; 18% expressed an increased desire to see more dance; 14% had longer, deeper conversations about dance; 14% had a more interesting social experience with dance; and 3% expressed an increased desire to become more involved in actively dancing. In terms of the strength of the individual respondents, on a scale of 1-5, Post-Show Talk videos received an average score of 4; Invitation to the Dance received an average score of 3.6; Program Questions scored at 3.3; and Discussion Prompts received a 2.8.

Continuing Program? “Seeing Dance, Talking Dance” is a natural extension of the Pillow’s Audience Engagement program and is part of our evaluation for 2015.

Resources & Links:

The Essay, Invitation to the Dance, can be found here: http://www.jacobspillow.org/festival/SeeingDanceTalkingDance_copyrightJacobsPillowDance2013.pdf

Post-Show Talk Videos are available through the Pillow's YouTube Channel, PillowTV: https://www.youtube.com/user/JacobsPillow/featured


Target Audiences College Students Young Adults, 25-35 General Audiences

Event Formats Dance 101 - How to introduce contemporary dance to the novice adult

Online Engagement Both online and in person

Social Bonding Aspects With dance experts - professors, critics, etc. With peer audience members With other "guides" such as students, volunteers