News: Siân Mitchell MacGregor to do PhD with Imaginate

27 October 2021

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We are delighted to announce that Siân Mitchell MacGregor has been appointed to undertake a PhD over the next three-year in partnership with the University of Aberdeen, on the following topic: "Valuing Young Audience: how children experience and value live theatre and dance, and why it matters". Speaking about her appointment Siân said:

"I have been lucky enough to have been amongst audiences for many years, both at work and as a keen spectator since my own childhood. My professional background is in stage management and production management in theatre and dance, most regularly on small-scale shows for children and young people, and touring contemporary dance. It has been a joy to be involved in making shows, taking them out on the road and especially witnessing the reactions to the work. Although my job has officially been ‘backstage’, on many occasions, I have found myself in the midst of the audiences, and for the last few years, my interest in the interaction between artwork and audience has become ever more present.

Recently, I took the plunge back into academia and undertook a Masters in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow. By good fortune or unconscious design, I focused on theatre and dance for young audiences throughout, including large projects based upon the history of the genre, and on the audience. Hence, when the opportunity to study young audiences arose with such prestigious partners as Imaginate and the University of Aberdeen, I was drawn to it immediately, and I’m delighted to be undertaking such important and fascinating research.

Through my work and taking my own children to the theatre, I have found that young audiences are often the most rewarding, and at the same time, the most challenging. Their honesty is inspiring, and at times hilarious – and they don’t tend to sit still and politely if they don’t feel like it; their reactions are often spontaneous and unhindered by etiquette, frequently unpredictable. This is also what makes them equally really interesting, and well worth investing in. Theatre and dance for young audiences can introduce to children and young people the fundaments and benefits of the arts, both in participation, and as spectators. What’s more, the responses of young audiences can help underpin wider thinking and understanding around audiences as a whole, as well as the broader importance of the arts for everyone.

Theatre and dance for children and young people which is made in Scotland has a worldwide reputation for excellence and care; it is worthy of investigation, celebration and promotion, although little concrete data exists of its importance and high quality. It’s hard to prove to those who have never seen or heard a young audience at a performance what a profound effect it can have; thus far it has been difficult to measure wonder in numbers. However, I am looking forward to reflecting and considering the value that many of us know exists - both in the work and within the audiences. I am keen to draw on my experiences and continue my contribution to the sector, in supporting and studying this genre, but also joining and making positive networks, with Imaginate at the core.

I’m aiming to undertake both practical and academic work during this doctoral study, especially as my specialism has become the melding of both these; I welcome queries and conversations with all those involved in the sector, and beyond it. Above all, I hope to strengthen networks, make connections and show the indubitable benefits of valuing young audiences, particularly from the audiences themselves."