fibs, damned fibs and statistics

On the tour along with a show programme we enclosed a feedback form for our audiences to fill in. We did this at everywhere we went to apart from the Broadway Barking. At the Broadway we instead spent 3 hours informally evaluating in the bar after the show talking to everyone we could. It was also the first tour date and a preview of sorts and for those reasons we didn’t provide feedback forms. This performance actually turned out to be our largest audience and I now regret not providing forms for it. Going into that performance we thought the audience would be entirely made up of friends and family or friends of friends and family but there were actually some *real* people there.

*real* people = people with no personal connection to the production.

Now of course this info I’m about to present isn’t fully representative of our tour audiences as the sample is only made up of people who filled out the form and returned it. So that filter is already in place before any analysis is made on the collected data. However, I am keen to share this info and my conclusions – or you can make you own from what is presented – on our experience of small scale touring.

The form of the form

Construction of these forms is important and you have to be realistic in how much time people are prepared to spend filling out an evaluation form after the show.

Paper Tom Autumn 2012 Tour feedback form
Paper Tom Autumn 2012 Tour feedback form

I mean, after a show who really wants to fill one of these out? But these forms play a critical role in us understanding our audience and the impact of our work better. When the show is finished and the tour is over this is one of the few tangible things we have left and arguably our strongest asset in justifying this work and any future work.

We printed the form onto A5 paper to make it less intimidating and look simple to complete but hopefully not too small to cause readability issues. There is a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data but the bias is definitely on tick box answers as we have found audiences are more likely to answer those questions. It’s a delicate balance between form simplicity and detailed content to get quality information back. We would like to ask more questions on the form but to get something useful back is better than nothing.

Our main aim with this feedback was to understand and prove who our audience is, what made them come to see our show and what they thought about it.

Forms returned

Do not underestimate the challenge of getting feedback forms filled in and returned. Time spent liaising with front of house is crucial as they play the most important part in collecting and asking people to complete the forms. Their persistence and persuasion really pays off in forms returned. Also provide pens.

Collected feedback forms (154 in total)
Collected feedback forms (154 in total)

These numbers should really be looked at in relation to the audience size but I still don’t have the official numbers for every performance yet. I think a good guide from our experience is if you get 50% forms back from the audience then you have done well.


We looked at age, perhaps a sensitive area for some but it actually turned out to be the only question that everyone answered! (People often leave bits blank on forms) So the age group I would rightly or wrongly assume is the least interested in new work (60+) was the biggest group to attend the show. I do think this age group is more inclined to fill in a form but I also think this age group is more resilient in the current challenging climate of theatre attendance (or lack of).

Breakdown of our audience age groups

Now if I take out the two venues we visited that had a strong focus in attracting younger audiences (The Gulbenkian and Garage) our demographics shift up even further with 76% of the audience aged 47 and over.

Audience Age breakdown with Gulbenkian and Garage data excluded

Ipsos Mori figures produced for the Society of London Theatre in 2010 showed that women make up 68% of the theatregoing audience. Our gender attendance results were fairly close to that split at 63%.

Audience: Male or Female?

In isolation I don’t think the question of “How much live theatre do you see a year?” provides a great deal of insight but it is useful when cross referenced with other demographic data and/or satisfaction scoring. Further insight would’ve been good on how much theatre people see is new work/writing but we were unable to go to this depth within our constraints of the form. It does show that we managed to reach some people with our new work who don’t see much theatre. We also talked with some people who saw the show in Barking who had never seen any theatre shows before.

How much live theatre do you see a year?
How much live theatre do you see a year?


We decided to have a score out of 7 because we thought it offered more flexibility of answer and a greater insight than a traditional rating out of 5 would. Taking into account all ratings over the whole tour the average audience rating score is 6.18 out of 7. I interpret this as a high level of satisfaction and to mean that we sold the show appropriately and delivered or exceeded upon audience expectations. This audience satisfaction is the strongest evidence we have to prove the quality of our work. It was consistent throughout the tour with maybe a slight increase in audience response as the tour went on. I’m proud that over a 1/3 of responses gave the show a maximum 7 out of 7 and that every tour performance collected 7 ratings.

Q: Please rate the production of ‘Paper Tom’ (1 = Very Poor) (7 = Exceptional)

Average audience performance rating by venueIt was just unfortunate for us that one of the few who didn’t like the show was a reviewer. He wrote that the performance “feels too stylised to draw the audience in” but I have 26 forms (plus twitter comments) from the audience that night that all say otherwise…? This review is also one of the few tangible assets left to represent the tour.


We have limited marketing resources and we want to see what works best and where we should concentrate our efforts. It very much looks like the venue brochure listing is super important to get right and I think if our production was featured more prominently in some brochures then perhaps we would’ve had an increase in audience size. That would probably be the case for every show though…

Personal recommendation was the other large influence on our audience attendance. We put the tour schedule on the programme with a hope that people would recommend the show to others for later dates. We did see an increase in personal recommendations as the tour went on and again that is a testament to the positive audience response to the production.

What made you come to see Paper Tom?

I’m not surprised that flyers and posters don’t seem to do much because at some venues we couldn’t easily spot them ourselves (and we were actively looking for them!). Reviews don’t seem to do much and I have long suspected that to be the case for small scale theatre but I can’t write them off entirely because I think they play a key part in programmers booking the show in the first place.

We went live on BBC London and talked about the show for close to 20 mins before our first show of the tour at Barking and we were also name checked in Lyn Gardners theatre picks for the last week of the tour. Now this activity gives confidence and ammunition to the venues and to us in promoting the show but in reality neither of these seemed to translate into ticket sales. I suspect this activity only preaches to the converted and firms up audience who already have the intention of attending.

Favourite bit of the show?

The aim of this was to see what aspects people liked and recognise about our work to possibly inform our future practice. Secondary to this was to see the weaknesses in our work by what was least mentioned. I have roughly grouped common aspects from comments into categories (although this probably wont mean much to you unless you’ve seen the show). The waltz / battle dance and the projection ‘transformation’ sequence were the most popular bits of the show and have always been so with audiences. It was good to see the acting also recognised as we did concentrate on improving this aspect the most during our rehearsal period.

Favourite bit or aspect of the show?
Favourite bit or aspect of the show?

Future work?

We asked ‘Would you see a new theatre show by Handheld Arts?’. This question was to bluntly gauge the audience appetite for more of our work. We only provided a binary option (Yes or No) for this. This hypothetical question depends on so many variables and that is why I didn’t think having ‘maybe’ option was useful to us. However some people made their own box on the form to fit their answer – so 3x ‘maybes’ and 1x ‘I bloody hope so!’ are included. It’s very positive that we didn’t get any ‘no’ responses.

Would you see a new theatre show by Handheld Arts?

Additional follow up questions I think are needed to understand this in sufficient depth such as ‘Come on now, would you really see a new show by us?’ and ‘What do you want to see – new work or an adaptation?’. But first it is up to us to decide on if we do another show and what it is…