Audience Engagement and the Role of Arts Talk in the Digital by Lynne Conner (auth.)

By Lynne Conner (auth.)

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For many audience members, attending an arts event never becomes an arts experience because engagement does not occur, either during the event or afterward. The word engagement is derived from the action of gears built into a mechanism: When the gears engage, the mechanism gets to work. Emotionally and intellectually, people engage when they involve themselves in a process of some sort—when they have the sense that they, too, are an element in what makes the gears work. An engaged classroom, for example, is one in which the students are authentic learners; that is, they have been charged with and accept responsibility for their own learning process.

You can’t sip Hamlet, for example, and expect to come away with a legitimate sense of taste about tragic drama. Personal taste in everything from beer to Shakespeare comes about through a combination of biology, past experience, cultural norms, individual predilections, and, importantly, a drive to know and a willingness to engage one’s cognitive attention. On a biopsychological level, taste is associated with the affective realm, one of the ABCs of psychology (along with cognition and behavior).

10 However appalled the English visitor may have been, conditions were not far off in the early concert halls of England, as Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh point out in Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain: “An individual would often attend several theaters in an evening, arranging to see favourite scenes, players or singers or meeting with people in different halls and boxes . . ”11 Audiences of the past also made themselves as comfortable as if they were in their own homes. 12 Picnic baskets were also common at two distinctly different early nineteenthcentury venues: the working-class theaters on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, where a meal of garlic sausage was “washed down in the course of an excursion to the nearest wineshop”13 before returning to the theater; and P.

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