ARAD Works: “You’re Invited: How Theatre Organizations Balance Artistic Excellence, Inclusivity, And Institutional Priorities When Producing Co-Creative Programming”

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“I am interested in theatre that engages the audience beyond the level of passive observer, creating a delightful sense of the unknown. Over the course of this analysis, I am eager to find out just how wide—and how sincere—a theatre’s “invitation” to its audience can be, and how the widening of that invitation is extended successfully with regard to the organization’s many stakeholders.”

Recent ARAD grad Hannah Fenlon’s thesis examines audience engagement in the theater world, questioning the effects these engagement practices have on communities and the organizations themselves.

Abstract: In recent years, public attitude and behavior with regard to the making and viewing of art has begun to shift. Arts participation is down, though the desire to create art (and access to the means to do so) is increasing. The advent of these changes, in combination with a desire on the part of arts professionals to enhance communities and further embed the arts in civic life, has sparked a growing interest in developing engagement strategies that meet the needs of audiences and communities. Co-creation, defined in this research as either participatory or collaborative, engages audiences and communities beyond their seats, allowing them to get involved in the process of making and presenting art. In a performing arts landscape that typically values traditional methods of delivery and standard definitions of “artist” and “audience”, introducing new strategies may produce tension amongst artistic leadership, communities and constituencies. This research endeavors to create a picture of co-creative processes in the theatre—their history and current definitions—focusing on participatory and collaborative programming. It will explore ways in which theatre organizations navigate the balance between aesthetic excellence and inclusivity, the relationship between artists and audience, and the conversation between theatres and their critics and funders. As participatory and collaborative programming emerges in response to audience and community need, how do organizations create high quality, equitable and sustainable models?

To read Hannah’s full paper, please contact the ARAD program at

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