The horizons of rural touring: re-imagining the rural tour

Branson, Mathilda (2017) The horizons of rural touring: re-imagining the rural tour. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The subject of this thesis is the UK rural touring theatre sector, and the possibility of formal innovation for rural touring. My research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of their Collaborative Doctoral Awards scheme, and has come about as a result of a partnership between The University of Nottingham and New Perspectives Theatre Company, which has enabled a combination of theoretical and practice-based research. In the rural touring sector, companies like New Perspectives tour productions to village halls and other community venues, where work is programmed by volunteer promoters. This area of the UK theatre ecology is thriving, but overlooked in academic studies of theatre. I argue that rural touring is distinct from theatre taking place in non-rural contexts in its audiences, places of performance and distribution model. Audience members tend to know each other, and their reasons for attendance often include a wish to socialise with fellow members of their community instead of, or as well as, a desire for a particular artistic experience. Rural touring venues are usually multi-purpose community spaces, used for exercise classes and social groups alongside their use as performance venues. Staff at regional touring schemes act as intermediaries in the distribution model, brokering the booking process between companies and promoters, whose programming choices may be governed by their role as members of the audience community. This thesis expands on scholarship related to theatre audiences and places of performance by highlighting these differences and their implications.

The practice-based aspect of my research focuses on the possibility of formal innovation for rural touring, in particular interactive and site-specific work, thus contributing to both scholarship and practice in these areas. Through an examination of existing theory and practice of interactivity, alongside a discussion of New Perspectives’ reasons for investigating interactive work, I lay the groundwork for a practical research project exploring interactivity for rural touring. My approach is informed by Gareth White’s frameworks for analysing audience participation and in particular his proposal of an ‘horizon of participation’ and an ‘horizon of risk’. Something Blue, a pilot performance I created for a rural audience, revealed a specific rural horizon of risk, shaped by the fact that rural audience members tend to know each other, and that their willingness to interact is governed by their perception of the risk of the loss of social capital.

My second practical research project explored site-specificity. My examination of existing theory and practice in this area reveals a lack of attention paid to the existing relationship an audience has to the place where a performance occurs. This is a significant factor in rural touring where audiences are drawn from communities of location. I draw on theories of place from geographers including Doreen Massey and Gillian Rose in order to propose an ‘horizon of place’ as a framework for understanding an audience member’s prior experience and knowledge of place. Building on this framework and considering New Perspectives’ reasons for exploring site-specific work, I set out the intentions of my second pilot performance. This performance, Homing, tested ways of engaging with place in a rural touring context. The results of this second pilot revealed a significant difference between the rural audiences’ insider horizons of place, and the company’s outsider horizon of place. My research demonstrated that this difference needs to be taken into account when creating place-related work for rural touring.

Alongside my two pilot performances, I discuss interviews I conducted with several practitioners working in the rural touring sector. In my final chapter I consider current changes to the wider sector and potential future models for rural touring. My study reveals rural touring as a thriving and ambitious component of the UK theatre industry, and one deserving of scholarly attention.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Robinson, Jo
Ramsay, Gordon
Keywords: touring theatre, rural theatre, place, uk, great britain, audiences, social capital
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
P Language and literature > PR English literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 41679
Depositing User: Branson, Mathilda
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2017 15:45

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