The Show Must Go On with, Dr. Kirsty Sedgman
We’ve seen the headlines: misbehaving, rude and disruptive audiences threatening and even assaulting staff and ruining performances for everyone. What is going on? What happened to the unwritten rules of audience etiquette? From customer-facing industries to public transport and cafes, interpersonal altercations seem to be happening everywhere.
In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Kirsty Sedgman, author, lecturer and award-winning scholar specialising in audience research and cultural value from Bristol University, to discuss how audience behaviour has changed and the challenges faced by the industry in maintaining a welcoming and respectful atmosphere.
Throughout the episode, we explore the intricate dynamics of theatre etiquette and what is acceptable behaviour; from phones and snacks to dress codes and applause protocol. It’s clear that there are complex issues at play, including exclusionary expectations, that need to be tackled.
We delve into the historical roots of silence and reverence in the theatre and discover how social structures and expectations have shaped our perceptions of reasonable behaviour. By clinging to tradition are we inadvertently excluding certain audiences, and perpetuating inequities?
Kirsty reminds us of the importance of making accommodations for individuals with different needs as well as for community outreach, and the need to ensure inclusivity and a sense of togetherness.
Thank you to our incredible guest, Kirsty Sedgman, for joining us, and we can’t wait to delve further into her book. Don’t miss out on this enlightening and thought-provoking episode!
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Thank you to our incredible guest, Kirsty Sedgman, Author, Lecturer and Doctor of Audiences. To learn more about Kirsty’s work, visit: https://kirstysedgman.com/
You can also find her book, “On Being Unreasonable,” in your favourite bookshops.
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About Our Guest
Dr. Kirsty Sedgman
Kirsty is an award-winning scholar specialising in audience research and cultural value.
Her work investigates how people find value in cultural participation. How do they experience and respond to the things they see? How are these pleasures and disappointments made meaningful within their lives? And what can all this tell us about the role of the arts in society, as well as the relationship between cultural institutions, power, identity, and place?
Her 2016 book Locating the Audience (Intellect) was the first to explore how people developed relationships with a new cultural institution at the time of its formation: the then brand-new National Theatre Wales. Her second, The Reasonable Audience, examines behaviour policing in the theatre etiquette campaigns. She has published on subjects ranging from exclusions in immersive and participatory theatre, to the ways online audiences talk about digital representations of live performance, to how Harry Potter fans felt about the Cursed Child stage play. Kirsty is currently working on a three-year British Academy-funded research project investigating community engagements with the Bristol Old Vic theatre through time.
Podcast: The Arts and Everything In Between
Episode Title: The Show Must Go On With Kristy Sedgman
Host(s): Lucy Costelloe
Guest(s): Kristy Sedgman
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:00:03 to 00:00:38
Hello and welcome to an episode of The Arts and Everything in between podcast. My name is Lucy Costello and I’m head of Sales and Marketing for Ticketsolve Today. I’m delighted to be joined by Kirsty Sedgman who is Doctor of Audiences at Bristol University and author her most recent book being published there in February, which is called On Being on Reasonable breaking the Rules and Making Things Better. Today, Kirstie joins for an episode where we’ll be discussing audience behaviour. I’m really looking forward to speaking with Kirsty today.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:00:39 to 00:00:50
I’m listening about her research and also hearing a little bit more about her new book. Thank you so much for having me. Hi, Kirsty. Welcome. No, thank you so much for taking your time.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:00:51 to 00:01:33
You’ve been really on my mind. It was amazing. We got to meet there at UK Theatre, so the Theatre and Touring summit the other week in London, and I know you were a panellist for one of their sessions, which focused on a very similar topic. So absolutely delighted that you can join us today and would love if you would give us just a quick introduction to yourself. Obviously, your title as Doctor of Audiences is so fascinating and I’m sure so many of our listeners would love to know kind of what your area expertise is and I suppose the experience that you have at Bristol University.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:01:34 to 00:02:30
Of course. Well, that’s really a more tongue in cheek, self ascribed label because Audiences has been my entire life’s work and daily obsession since I got the PhD, gosh about a decade ago now. But my official job title is Lecturer in Theatre at the University of Bristol. So I’m in theatre department there, but I was trained by the late, great Professor Martin Barker, who was one of the world leading experts in audience research, focusing primarily on film and TV, so mass media. So what I’ve been doing since then is bringing those methods and debates about how we can understand both audience experience but also audience behaviour and audience response from the mass media field into live performance.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:02:31 to 00:02:31
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:02:34 to 00:03:03
Just from some of the conversations that I’ve been having recently, I feel our conversation today is very timely. Following the likes of Arts, Professional and the stage, we’re kind of shifting our focus between nearly two or three key priorities and that can be the audiences that are missing that aren’t coming back. Why haven’t they returned yet? Will they? We’re pretty convinced they probably won’t.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:03:03 to 00:03:55
So we’re trying to focus then on our current loyal segment, but also a piece that’s been kind of spoken about. And definitely a key concern for a lot of venue managers at the moment is some of the behaviour that we’re seeing when we are welcoming our audiences back and how our staff and our team are feeling about that. I suppose, for want of a better way of saying it, but we’re kind of feeling like there’s possibly behaviour that’s quite antisocial very disruptive to what traditional theatre norms would be, I suppose. Yeah. Just an understanding that what is your kind of current take if you were to kind of set the temperature for the industry at the moment in terms of how our audiences are behaving?
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:03:55 to 00:04:47
What would that look like? Well, if you’d asked me that before COVID I would have given a slightly different answer because I would have said that things have ever been thus. In fact, as far back as the ancient Greeks, 2000 years ago, people like Plato were complaining about audiences behaving badly. In fact, Plato called it a vicious I always say this wrong vicious, the autocracy where audiences who used to be silent and still now have found their voice and are cat calling and yelling and might need to be controlled with a stick. So to some extent, of course, we’ve been having these debates about audiences behaving badly and particularly young people assumed to be increasingly disrespectful for a very long time.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:04:47 to 00:05:28
But all evidence suggests that something has shifted again since COVID and that’s really what the theatre industry and the live performance industry as a whole is now grappling with. Trying to figure out what that means. Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. I know it’s kind of a concern in so many ways because something I think that a lot of theatres are focusing on at the moment is this idea of attracting audiences into premises a little bit earlier and looking at that secondary spend or cost per head for each performance.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:05:29 to 00:06:15
And that usually means offering them something else, whether it’s a drink at the bar, whether it’s a meal at the interval or a meal throughout a show. And we’re trying to keep them a little bit longer, which means we’re encouraging them to spend more. And I think that can kind of accelerate maybe the pressure that can be felt around really honing in on the actual audience experience that you’re offering. So if audiences are feeling a little bit risk adverse, they don’t want to kind of have to weigh up. Well, if I go to this new show, which I’m not 100% sure if I’ll enjoy, rather if I go to the cinema where I know I can go for pizza with friends and have a great time.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:06:15 to 00:07:12
So I’ve really heard a lot of managers at the moment kind of focusing in on this kind of secondary spend more so than maybe potentially ever before and then at the same time hearing stories where audiences experiences were totally maybe tampered with. Nothing to do with the outcome or the quality of a performance, but to do with the experience that they had sitting beside other members of the crowd who might have been unruly or singing along or on their phone, for example. There’s lots of different stories and kind of I think the scale of what’s a horror story and what’s oh, that was a bit unfortunate. It really does differ totally yeah. And I suppose the first thing to say is, if you are listening to this episode and you’ve gone through something similar internally, you’re not alone.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:07:12 to 00:08:35
And I think that was clear, isn’t it, Kirsty, from some of the inklings that were discussed, without drawing into too much of the specifics, but just the temperature of UK Theatre and the conversation that you kind of led this year with your session. Absolutely. And it’s very clear that it’s happening everywhere in theatre. We’re seeing these interaudience uprisings that are, in the worst cases, leading to instances of violence and even abuse against fellow audience members, but also against front of house staff and front facing customer facing staff, who are, generally speaking, the lowest paid in the whole sector, which is obviously abhorrent. But we’re also a conversation at UK Theatre suggested seeing these instances of interpersonal altercation happening in every aspect of social life, particularly in customer facing industries, but also on the streets and in cafes and in restaurants where people are butting up against each other in public transport with very different ideas about what it means to behave reasonably and whether it’s ever okay to judge or shame somebody else or to ask people to stop doing certain things.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:08:35 to 00:09:45
So it’s a real minefield, and I think we have to take it extremely seriously for that reason. Absolutely. And I think something, when we were just kind of having a quick chat before we began recording is this idea that we possibly have this mentality in the sector where the show must go on, the show must always go on, and we’ll put on a great show as well. And it’s been interesting to see most recently where that line of, well, no, it’s not acceptable for this show to go on at the moment becoming a little bit more prevalent in some of the circumstances that are happening at the moment. And I think it would be interesting to kind of understand and to maybe hone in on, as you’ve mentioned yourself, the full complexities when we’re considering something like audience behaviour and the behaviour that we would hope or encourage, how we would encourage our audience members to behave from when they arrive into our venues.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:09:45 to 00:10:17
And that’s know, I’m really interested in hearing your perspective on kirsty well, I’ve. Been working on this now, studying audience behaviour and theatre etiquette, as it’s often called, and the kind of debates that have been swirling around this topic. I started studying it nearly nine years ago now. Wow. And in fact, my second academic book was called The Reasonable Audience, which was about behaviour policing in the auditorium and theatre etiquette debates.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:10:18 to 00:11:59
And Pulgrave took that and been selling it for 50 quid and I’ve never seen a penny from it. That’s my real academic investigation, a kind of deep dive into these discourses of reasonableness in the auditorium and what it’s right to do and how we should behave, and also who can feel, or has potentially historically been made to feel unwelcome in these spaces for all kinds of reasons. But then Lockdown hit and suddenly all of the things that I’d been studying for all those years in relation to theatre, I saw erupting everywhere those ideas about what it means to behave reasonably and what it means to feel like we’re reasonable people with the right to judge how other people behave and when actually that’s a really good thing to do because it’s encouraging pro social behaviour and when actually it’s causing unreasonable divisions in ways we can’t always see. We saw that everywhere, from whether or not it’s reasonable to expect other people to wear masks to keep immunocompromised people safe, to vaccinations, and questions of bodily autonomy to the smaller, bubbling tensions in our everyday spaces, like whether women should be allowed to wear makeup, apply makeup when they’re on trains, or whether it’s okay to recline your seat on an aeroplane. To the big, enormous macro questions of our time, like protest movements when we’re seeing protesters.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:11:59 to 00:12:42
Like just stop oil, stop cricket matches or the Black Lives Matter movements. How can we judge their behaviour as unreasonable? And how so often is that the line that particularly the centrist media take? So we’ve been using this word reasonable, I realised for a very long time, as a way to separate reasonable from unreasonable, acceptable from unacceptable, appropriate from inappropriate, within every aspect of social life. In fact, that word reasonable, I found out, is absolutely embedded in our moral philosophical value systems, the way that we judge other people.
Kristy Sedgman (Guest) | 00:12:43 to 00:13:45
So much so that it became embedded within our legal system, too, within international law. Things like reasonable accommodations in disability law, to reasonable use of force in relation to cases of police violence, to what was originally called the reasonable man’s standard for judging everybody’s behaviour in a way that has disproportionately harmed women. So my new book on being Unreasonable steps Beyond Theatre, although it’s absolutely growing out of my research into audiences, but it’s studying how we negotiate the rules of togetherness within every aspect of public space. And for me, studying theatre has always been a window into understanding those broader processes of sense making and value construction. Because what is theatre if it’s not a laboratory space for figuring out what it means to be together out there in the world, in public, watching the same thing unfold?
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:13:49 to 00:14:40
Kirsty, I have to say, I love this idea of togetherness that you’ve mentioned there and when you were kind of describing to us and setting the temperature around. What does reasonable behaviour amongst our audiences look like? I’m really drawn to this idea of the idea that we arrive together, we experience something together, and then the potential that one act that mightn’t go with this form of togetherness can really interrupt that. And I was thinking there of, I’m sure you know it yourself, that experiment that came out and I know, loads of people refer to it when we talk about live performances. But there was an experiment done on heartbeats, wasn’t there, within an auditorium.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:14:40 to 00:15:36
And by the end, or before the end, it was noted that audience members sitting together, their heartbeats were then in sync. And this is what I’m thinking of when you mentioned the togetherness. It’s such an important aspect of why people attend live theatre. So to think about that, the show must always go on and the reasons and the motivations that we have, and the drive to keeping our venues in a way that we’re creating meaning for our audience members. But that a big key component of it is nearly the arrangements, or kind of the informal, shall I say, contract between audiences and venue and this idea of how it all comes together and all these pieces.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:15:36 to 00:16:17
What do you think, in your experience, is kind of some of the best or key understandings that we might need to consider at the moment in terms of what does it look like when the line has just been crossed or where does the line sit? If there was a line in terms of what is reasonable and what is unreasonable? Well, I love that you use that word, the line, because that is what all my work explores. Oh, no way. The fact that we need, in fact, in the introduction to one Being unreasonable, I say that this is a book about the language of lines and how we draw them.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:16:17 to 00:17:19
Because, of course, we need to have lines. We need mechanisms as a society for drawing lines between good and bad, right and wrong, legal and illegal. In fact, when I started to dig into our history, I found that the thing that turned us into this vast, complex organism that we know as society today, the only reason that that exists is because we developed the ability to draw what evolutionary psychologists call norms and rules to help us to structure social life in a way that encourages prosocial behaviour and discourages deviants. We are only a society because we have the ability to draw those lines. But what my research into theatre audiences specifically has shown is that actually where we draw those lines can differ wildly from one person to the next.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:17:22 to 00:18:06
Even if I’m looking at, say, one person who really, truly does believe that audiences today have got increasingly badly behaved and need to be retrained, even if I look at a variety of people who firmly believe that core truth, the kinds of advice they give to audiences in terms of that retraining are often really different. So for one person, they might say, never ever bring your phone into a theatre at all. Don’t just leave it off, leave it at home. Another person might say, do you know what? It’s reasonable that you might need to bring your phone into the theatre.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:18:06 to 00:18:35
Just make sure it’s on silence. If, say, you have a babysitter at home and you just don’t feel comfortable leaving the house and going out and being part of this wonderful collective experience without the ability to just keep an eye on your phone, just to make sure nothing’s going wrong. A couple of quick glances, that’s perfectly fine. Another person might say, no snacks allowed in the theatre at all. Another might say, well, quiet snacks are fine.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:18:35 to 00:19:02
Have you considered eating an ice cream instead? And then when I surveyed these guides to theatre etiquette, what I found was that one of the widest points of deviance was things like dress codes. Some people said specifically, the days of formal attire at theatre are gone and good riddance, to be honest. Rock up in whatever you feel comfortable in. Even wear jeans and flip flops.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:19:02 to 00:19:42
Another person said specifically, no jeans and flip flops allowed at the theatre because we’re creating an experience of specialness for everybody. So what I do as an audience researcher is I talk to people and I listen to the things that they say. And I take very seriously those people who really, truly believe in what Peterbrook called the power of that good kind of silence when he said, everyone is so attuned to that same moment. There is this extraordinary life that brings us together. I take that pleasure really seriously.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:19:43 to 00:20:40
But I also take very seriously those people who say that, well, sometimes those requirements to be totally still and completely silent can be exclusionary for certain audiences in ways we don’t necessarily think about. And there is a tendency, I know, for whenever anyone brings up something like an incident where an audience member is getting drunk and violently abusive, there is a tendency to then say, oh, but it’s a much more complex part of the problem. We have to think about all these other audiences and their needs and to think that that’s a distraction. But this is we’re talking about some of the most complex issues of interhuman relations and how we negotiate those things. So I think we really need to get better at seeing all of this as a complex problem that can’t be solved with easy do’s.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:20:40 to 00:21:35
And don’ts we need to get better about talking about this problem as a whole? Absolutely. Actually, when you were kind of talking about this kind of question of, well, access to theatre as well, there was something that was in the back of my mind, I think, of the example where some people feel very uncomfortable. I’ve heard stories of when classical musicians came back to do solo performances rather than maybe kind of big orchestral concerts and they were attending venues in the UK, like, you know, The Greats. And some of their experiences of getting back into performing for the first time after COVID was that they felt uncomfortable and the audience members felt uncomfortable as well.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:21:35 to 00:22:15
And how this was perceived, or felt nearly because it is it’s an emotion was people may be feeling uncomfortable, like, Do I clap? I remember that was massive during COVID was, is it okay to clap? Do we have to stop clapping? And also that when we do think of classical performances as well, because of the nature of the genre, it can be if you’re not kind of like an active goer, potentially classical music can have that kind of questioning of, oh, no, it’s not. Now is the time to clap.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:22:15 to 00:22:56
So it can be really uncomfortable, but for both audience members and then also the performer as well. But that was just the example that I haven’t thought about in so long was when we came back and when we started to reopen and we had this staggered reopening, that question of can I or can’t I clap? Was something that we spoke about in great deal, I suppose, for two reasons. The first was, in terms of public safety around, spreading the virus, we’re wearing masks, should we be clapping? But then I think the second thing as well was we really had to find our way back into sitting together.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:22:56 to 00:24:14
And this again, Christy, going back to your idea of togetherness, as I think this idea then, of theatre etiquette and how that is changing how it’s always been there, but we’re kind of adapting to where we are currently as kind of a community of theatre goers or just live performances in general. What I suppose I’d love to understand is that a big part, I think, of why this can be such a challenging conversation, really does revolve around well, if there’s clear do’s and don’ts, if there’s a dress code or not, if we wear flip flops or not, there’s somebody who isn’t going to be happy. There’s going to be an audience member who isn’t going to be delighted sitting beside another audience member who’s in a pair of flip flops, or they’ll be the audience member who wants to attend their flip flops, who’s spoken to at the door saying, I’m sorry, Lucy, there’s no flip flop policy as kind of people, pleasers in the arts and cultural sector. How do we try and please all? Or is that actually something that’s too far out of our scope?
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:24:15 to 00:24:44
Should we be trying to please everyone, or where is the middle ground nearly for some of these considerations? I don’t think it’s a bad thing to try to please everyone, but I think it’s ultimately always going to be doomed to failure because you can never please everybody all the time, particularly if you’re trying to attract the widest slice of society possible.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:24:46 to 00:25:50
So partly we do need to think very carefully and critically about who the rules of total, silent, reverent stillness are harming to such an extent that it makes it impossible for them to come to theatre at all. That has to be an important part of the conversation, because as people like the amazing tourette’s hero, activist and performer Jess tom has so movingly pointed out those reasonable accommodations that are so often made for disabled people like her with physical and verbal tics. She recounts beautifully in her show Backstage at Biscuit Land about telling a performer beforehand that she was going to come and be there in the audience, being assured she’d be welcome. And then still, during the interval, an audience member complained to the venue and she was asked to sit in the sound booth. And she talks about how that supposedly reasonable accommodation caused deeply unreasonable pain.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:25:52 to 00:26:46
So we need to pay attention to those who cannot force their bodies into that mode of normative silence. And that’s part of what I explore when I say that we need to take these various perspectives seriously. But also what we’re seeing again, especially post COVID, is for some audiences not all, of course, but for some there is a hunger for a more joyfully, exuberant form of togetherness. And on being unreasonable, I explore that at length. Because what I found is that this philosophers tend to call it collective effervescence, this sense of joyful togetherness, where you can get together and you can let loose in a more sociable way that is actually essential to community formation.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:26:46 to 00:27:24
And we do get it at sports events and festivals, but those opportunities for collective effervescence in public space more generally are increasingly few and far between. So I think it’s also worth taking seriously those in our industry, if nothing else, who are saying actually for them, sitting down and being totally silent, and that being the only mode of expected pleasure in theatre is actually, for them, experienced as stultifying. Not everybody loves Peter Brooks’good kind of silence.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:27:28 to 00:28:29
And the other thing that I have to very carefully introduce throughout all of my work on this subject is whilst absolutely nobody I know is saying that, say, working class audiences or audiences of colour are unable to sit down and be polite in these ways, so allowances might need to be made, that’s absolutely classist and racist thinking. Nobody is saying that. Nobody is saying that quietness is a middle class norm. But it is also true that those expectations of silent reverence did come from a particular time and place historically from the 19th century culture and civilization campaigns, which of course I go into in the book in much more detail. But in short, essentially sudden mass migration to urban centres caused by rapid industrialization meant that social elites started to panic.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:28:30 to 00:29:46
People like Matthew Arnold, whose work on culture and anarchy has had a tremendous influence on the European and also the US art worlds, even today. He did a kind of cross Atlantic lecture tour where he said that society is sliding into anarchy. But don’t worry, culture can be used to civilise everybody, but only if everybody is retrained into this new ideal of sitting down and experiencing he called it the best that has been thought or said in the world in complete reverent silence. And what happened was, by and large, working class audiences were excluded from artistic experiences because they were perceived to be incapable of responding correctly. And this was also part of much broader, actively white supremacist colonial campaigns to civilise the world, because, as I say, in On Being Unreasonable explorers, they went around the world, they saw people dancing and instead of seeing collective effervescent joy, they saw anarchic brutality.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:29:47 to 00:30:56
So we need to think really carefully and critically about who has been harmed when those opportunities for collective effervescent have been repressed. And if there might be a space, not everywhere in theatre, by all means, but somewhere for people to get together and have that experience, or whether we’re saying, no, they’d sorry, if you want that, you just have to go and watch sports. Yeah, wow, there’s a real what you’re describing there, Kirsty, just makes me think of like, we have a real duty of care nearly with what we do in the sector. So it could be everything from every decision you make towards programming to the offering that you have in terms of making accommodations and ensuring that if your objective as an organisation is to focus on community outreach, there is 100% a duty of care and responsibility there. I think, again, it makes me think of that kind of feeling of togetherness as well, and this is why we come together, this is the arrangements that we make.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:30:56 to 00:31:46
We do this for the community, with the hopes that as part of your side of the bargaining chip or your side of the arrangement, you’ll book a ticket or you might also leave a donation. And it’s a real kind of network of operating, nearly, and something I think as well, just in your example there. I’m a huge fan of Tourette’s Hero and I think understanding well, what are reasonable accommodations, and last summer, and I haven’t thought about it since, which in a way, it just shows that it possibly didn’t impact my experience of sitting in an auditorium. But I took a trip down to a theatre that I love in Limerick. I currently live in Dublin and I went for a matinee show and I just thought it was such a lovely thing to do.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:31:46 to 00:32:52
I went down by myself and I really wanted to see this performance and I didn’t want to share it, kind of with anyone else except the people who were there that day. And because it was a matinee performance, I think there was this perception of, well, the tickets are slightly more cost effective, shall we say, so they could be a five euro or anywhere between five to eight euro cheaper than if you were to attend in the evening. And it was a Saturday and now it was a brine freel production and someone sitting in the row in front of me had a very small young child with them. And it was, I’d say, a mother and a grandmother and had taken this kind of young toddler and the toddler was expected to sit through the performance. And I do think someone made a complaint to a member of the staff, because it was only in the second half of the performance that I realised that they weren’t sitting in front of me anymore.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:32:52 to 00:33:41
And also that I could kind of hear and see them from the kind of peripheral vision. And they had been put up where seats actually possibly weren’t for sale. But in terms of what that theatre needed to do to try and please everyone, it was, I suppose, the negotiation that they had made. But in terms of if that was me who had to approach that family and say, yes, it’s a matinee performance, but this isn’t necessarily a child friendly performance, we’re not saying you can’t bring children, it’s just if you do, you have to remember that it’s still a live theatre performance. So opening bags of crisps or whatever that was, it will take away from both the actors on stage and the people that you’re sitting beside.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:33:41 to 00:34:39
But I don’t think I would have the confidence, I don’t know how you would go up and have those conversations with someone. I suppose, in terms of the research that you’ve been done, how does that other side look? Or how do we, in terms of really monitoring, making sure that line isn’t crossed, what are the best approaches to take? That’s the big question, isn’t it? And I know from the UK theatre conversation that people who are working in the industry right now, a massive priority, is helping their staff who are on the front lines and who have to actually manage these situations to not feel that they’re completely shoved out in front of everybody and put in dangerous situations.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:34:41 to 00:35:18
So I know a lot of varying solutions have been proposed. For example, some theatres are turning to body cams. Yes, which I do have complicated feelings about. There is mediation training that I know is being developed and run at various organisations. But the great thing about being an academic is that I get to raise complex problems but not necessarily provide all the solutions.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:35:18 to 00:36:08
And particularly writing a book called On Being Unreasonable, I know that there’s a massive risk that I might be setting myself up as if I’m some kind of ultimate arbiter of reasonableness. Whereas actually, what I’m saying is that any one perspective is going to be flawed because we can’t necessarily see who our decisions or our value judgments might be harming. And I said that I started studying this around nine years ago. Well, that’s because that’s when I had my first baby, Monty, and suddenly I found myself a professional theatregoer excluded from theatre, at least without the ability to detach my breasts and leave them at home. And I started to think about not whether we should change the rules of theatre just.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:36:08 to 00:36:46
Purely to accommodate me. But I started to think about how, for me, this was a temporary exclusion. And then I thought about all the people for whom that exclusion is not temporary at all, it’s much more permanent, but also the inequities involved in child rearing. Because when we exclude children from certain aspects of public or professional life, we are disproportionately excluding women from public and professional life. And I thought about how once or twice I did need to strap one of the kids to my chest so that I could go to a conference, which is essential for me in terms of building my career.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:36:46 to 00:37:30
I wouldn’t have had a career if I hadn’t done that. But that meant that I was giving conference presentations with a baby strapped to me, knowing that it was a ticking time bomb. And this isn’t just about babies, it’s about behaviour. It’s about how we negotiate the rules of behaviour in every aspect of public life, and how we can, without necessarily meaning it, exclude certain particularly marginalised and minoritized groups in ways that we don’t even necessarily see either until it’s happening to us or until we have it pointed out to us. And things like in the street.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:37:30 to 00:38:25
I broke my knee during the course of writing the On Being Unreasonable book and suddenly I realised how ridiculous the rule is that you have to find a crossing point in order to be able to cross the road. Because I just wanted to get from my office directly to the other side of the street where there was a cafe to get lunch. But I had to painfully limp very slowly on my crutches down the street to cross the road at the crossing point in order to limp, then back up the street just to get from A to B, which should be easy enough to do directly. And it’s things like that, things that seem normal to us, the right way of being, just common sense that I’m asking us not to completely change or to throw out altogether, but just to think really carefully about. Because, as I said, we need those lines, we need the ability to draw lines.
Kirsty Sedgman (Guest) | 00:38:26 to 00:39:32
And what I’m absolutely not saying is that anybody should be allowed to do whatever they want without consequence. The last thing we need is more selfish Egypts who feel that they’re entitled to behave however they like. But we do need to think critically about how we’ve structured our social world and our industry, and who is being made to feel completely welcome and at home, and who is being shut out from that glorious moment of togetherness. Oh, Christy, thank you so much for you know, I think what has been so interesting about this podcast episode and potentially different from other episodes that we’ve hosted, is the idea that a great starting point is just having the conversation and being aware and taking time. You don’t even have to have it with another member of your team as a start, it’s having it maybe with yourself and kind of asking or reflecting upon some of those kind of prompt questions that you’ve mentioned there.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:39:32 to 00:40:07
So, Kirsty, in terms of where our listeners can find a copy of On Being Unreasonable, Breaking the Rules and Making Things Better, where can you direct them? And we’ll include all of this in the show notes as well. All good bookshops you can order it from, and some bad ones as well. Well, Christy, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of The Arts and everything in between. And congratulations again on your book and really looking forward to reading it and also to kind of following along the research that you’re doing as well.
Lucy Costelloe (Host) | 00:40:07 to 00:40:18
Thank you again. It was great to meet you at UK Theatre in London there the other week. And thank you so much for the time you’ve taken today to join us on this episode. Thank you so much for having me.
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