They produce a fresh and vibrant repertoire of varied work resulting in affordable and accessible theatre catering to all age ranges right in the heart of London. Their collaborative approach explores performance of all styles (from classical theatre to circus-style acrobatics) working as a cohesive whole.
Since its conception, each year IT has had a range of theatrical experiences. Their repertoire always has a wide selection – a Shakespearean play, new and experimental theatre, something for families and children, etc. Each experience combines the conventions of theatre with the eccentricities of experimentalism. While the number of productions per year may be limited, the range allows its impact to spread across varied audiences. For instance, each year includes an immersive theatre performance of a traditional Shakespeare play – making it familiar yet unique. In June-July of 2014, they put up performances of Richard III in Covent Garden. The website carries details of its success, including a video teaser and reviews: http://iristheatre.com/event/richard-iii/
CURRENT AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT
- Workshops with schools
Over the last five years IT has brought its uniquely interactive, immersive, audience-participatory approach to Shakespeare. All their workshops are run by actors who have performed in Iris Theatre’s shows and have hands-on experience of working recently in successful productions.
Through hands-on experience pupils gain a greater understanding of these plays in performance and this in turn feeds back to a greater understanding of the plays on the page. They also have an additional set of Schools Learning Resources to facilitate lesson planning which are free to download at any time. They offer workshops at various levels and on various different Shakespeare plays. For example:
· Shakespeare’s Dream Workshop – Key Stage 2 +
A hands on experience exploring the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream through performance, storytelling and games.
· Shakespeare Understood Workshop – Key Stage 4 +
Four actors will help pupils deepen their understanding of the language and meaning of these plays through an interactive exploration of key scenes. Based on either Romeo & Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Further details of workshops with schools: http://iristheatre.com/schools/
These workshops involve a direct engagement with a group that becomes, potentially, a viable audience for Iris Theatre.
- Promotion of emerging artists
IT is committed to supporting emerging artists through an on-going range of initiatives. These include showcasing opportunities, creative competitions, workshops and access to producing advice.
For example, they hold a series of Masterclasses for acting, which focus on Shakespearean plays. The Workin Process programme has events that inspire new musical theatre work by prompting artists to make a creative response or form new collaborations. Workin Process events come in the shape of competitions and are a platform for artists to showcase their skills. There are also opportunities for people looking to produce plays, like an initiative that gives emerging producers access to free producing advice in the form of a 1 hour session with one of their experienced in-house producers or associates, as well as another initiative that allows co-production of new theatre at low costs in Central London.
- Technical advantages
· Iris Theatre is located in Covent Garden, right in central London.
· Most outdoor performances are during the summer, and the good weather and holiday season secures audiences’ participation and success of the outdoor performances. This also gives Iris Theatre the opportunity to increase tourist revenue.
· Tickets are not expensive, considering the location and the avant-garde nature of the productions.
IT is a niche theatre with a small number of high-quality performances each year. It aims to engage young, talented individuals who are interested in theatre and are willing to experiment with different forms of theatrical experiences. It manages to deal with exclusivity of both members and audiences, however, quite successfully, through all the mechanisms detailed above – the range of genres of productions, the workshops with schools as well as actors and producers, the location-based and seasonal nature of performances, etc. The subversion of traditional norms of nature is appealing to the youth – for prices that are not exorbitant, they get to experience theatre in a majestic, yet crazy and risky manner. In 2015, IT plans to have productions of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the musical Pinocchio, Moonshine, which is a concert of music and poetry, along with master classes and workshops. This diversity allows for a corresponding diversity in audience demographics. The nature of these unconventional performances also makes way for non-intrusive methods of audience development, without having to rely on traditional research methods such as questionnaires and surveys. The direct engagement with the audience that immersive theatre demands includes the advantages of participant observation and the audiences’ responses and reactions as indicators of what the organisation is doing right and where it’s falling short.
While the current techniques for audience development in terms of its role in fulfilling the aims of the organisation seem to be working well, certain issues do come up. One has to do with the sort of theatre it propagates - with emerging artists at its forefront and a focus on the youth, it must rely on the word-of-mouth tool to a large extent. While this is useful, it also puts a lot of pressure on the organisation to maintain a certain standard since its reputation rests on audience response and the extent to which they would repeat their experience and/or recommend it to others. Another issue has to do with the exclusive and niche nature of the theatre itself – in this case, should the focus be on expanding audience diversity at all? Is it really necessary, or should the focus be to keep the target audience to its limited scope and attempt to increase that particular group of young people? Can an organisation sustain itself with these limited audiences? These are questions that need to be considered.