Getting In On The Act: Alan Brown’s Webinar

by August Schulenburg

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

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On Wednesday, May 2, Alan Brown will lead the A-ha! Leadership Webinar, Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation. This webinar is free for Member Theatres and will feature Alan’s  insights into present trends in audience engagement and the future of arts participation within our field. The deadline for registration is Wednesday, April 25, so register now.

Alan took a moment out of his busy schedule to answer some of our questions about arts participation – read on, and then join us on May 2!

Your work shows that audiences are increasingly choosing to engage with art in more active ways. What do you think is driving this shift?
A lot of things are driving demand for more active experiences, including the need for lower-cost entertainment alternatives, the expectation of interactivity, and the rise of personal creative expression in general, facilitated by technological tools. The barriers to being an expressive participant in culture are lower than they’ve ever been.

You recently published the study, Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation. What was the impetus for this study?
Josephine Ramirez, program director for the arts at The James Irvine Foundation asked WolfBrown to take stock of the landscape of active participation, as a resource to the foundation and its constituents. Irvine is exploring new ways to fund participatory arts programs for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that these types of programs tend to engage a more diverse public, and the foundation has a mandate to serve all of California.

What was the most surprising finding from the study?
Some of the innovative ways that artists and arts groups are using technology to crowd-source artistic content is pretty cool.

What is the last participatory-arts experience you had that rocked your world?
My primary creative outlet, aside from writing, is social dancing. I’m not into square dancing or anything like that, although I did learn how to vogue at one point. When thousands of people improvise movement to the same song, in the same space, it can be an amazing experience, particularly when they start singing along to the lyrics. I think most people know the lyrics to thousands of songs. They are buried deep in the subconscious, but come gushing out with the slightest musical cue. Its the lost poetry of a generation.

I brought a time machine to this interview, and together, we travel to the year 2050. What do we see theatre audiences doing differently?
By 2050, I think live theatre will be going strong, but there will also be a flourishing virtual theatre scene – high quality participatory theatrical events that take place within social games and in social media. Its already starting to happen. And digital and live theatre will intertwine in ways we can never imagine right now.

Will anyone still want to just sit down in the dark and watch a play?
Yes, of course. But the last act will take place on Facebook, or whatever its called in 50 years.

At a flea market, you stumble upon an old lamp which reveals a genie when you try to dust it off. The genie will grant you one wish for the theatre field, but it can’t be money or more wishes. What do you say?
I would wish that every theater in every community would have storytelling and spoken word programs that give voice to the community, as a complement to their theatrical work. We all have stories to tell.

You have a Bachelor of Musical Arts in vocal performance – are you still finding time to sing?
No, but sometimes I sit in the car listening to the Metropolitan Opera channel on satellite radio and pretend that I’m Joan Sutherland. God rest her soul.


Alan Brown, Principal of WolfBrown, is a leading researcher and management consultant in the arts and culture sector worldwide. His work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and on helping cultural institutions, foundations and agencies to see new opportunities, make informed decisions and respond to changing conditions. His studies have introduced new vocabulary to the lexicon of cultural participation and propelled the field toward a clearer view of the rapidly changing cultural landscape. He speaks frequently at national and international conferences about audience behaviors, trends in cultural participation and the value system surrounding arts programs.


August Schulenburg is the Associate Director of Communications at TCG. He is also the Artistic Director of Flux Theatre Ensemble, winner of the 2011 Caffe Cino Fellowship Award. He is a playwright whose produced plays include Riding the Bull, Carrin Beginning, The Lesser Seductions of History, Dream Walker, Rue, Jacob’s House and Other Bodies. He is also a director (most recently Ellen McLaughlin’s Ajax in Iraq) and actor (the recent film, The Golden Scallop). Learn more here.