Blog: An update on Sian MacGregor's PhD on Valuing Young Audiences

30 October 2023

c. Kat Gollock
c. Kat Gollock

Having come from a very practical, hands-on background, spending two years (legitimately) thinking, reading and talking has been as strange for me as it has refreshing and delightful.

Work on a doctoral project includes both following and instigating various strands which will hopefully contribute to the final project dissertation, and – in the best scenario – also offer something wider: knowledge, networks, information, collaboration. With that in mind, I have been working in several areas, and different activities, sometimes simultaneously.

Most recently, it has been a summer of conferences – almost like the bus analogy, all arriving at once – and I contributed talks to three in the last few weeks: the International Play Association (IPA in Glasgow with Charlotte Allan - read September blog); the annual Theatre and Performance Research Association conference (TaPRA, in Leeds, with Vickie Beesley) and Class Concerns (hosted by the University of Glasgow). The topics of the talks all centred on the young audience, foregrounding, respectively, the voice of the child in theatre for early years, collaborating with your intended audience in making work, and exploring how class is affecting children’s arts interaction and experiences. I also co-organised and presented a poster at the Year 2 Symposium for my academic funder, SGSAH.

Of course, I would have had nothing to share without the data I’ve been collecting over the past months (conversations and observations). And there would be no data without informants – children and young people of varied ages, aided by supportive grown-ups. I was determined to capture the thoughts and voices of children and young people as the primary source and influence on this project, so I have had great fun – as well as surprise, and humbling moments - watching live theatre and dance and then talking and drawing all about it. I will be forever grateful for the knowledge shared by my Expert Contributors, which over the summer also began to include adult artists and makers of theatre and dance.

Coming up next is more writing, incl. an academic paper based on the talk at the IPA conference, but also more gathering: a network I have instigated of people who make work alongside children and young people met for the first time in October, with participants from Taiwan, Poland and across the UK talking together and sharing common interests, challenges and joy. Happily, this cohort includes other PhD researchers looking into performance for children and young people which had little scholarly attention up to now.

I’m also facilitating Hands on the Treasure Troves, an event in the local archives of Perth & Kinross for academic researchers, to explore all things archival with two fellow SGSAH-funded students. Of course, I’m most excited to investigate their new oral history project based on childhood interactions with Perth Theatre – feeling so privileged to be able to seek out children’s theatre and dance in the most interesting spaces.