Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Questions The Glasgow School

Rather than ask the main question directly , I decided on six questions which shared similar ground. Avoiding the possibility of a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ reply to whether there is a particular Glasgow aesthetic (and the evidence of the Independence Referendum campaign points to a polarisation of opinion in a simple closed question), I hoped that these questions would open up discussion and allow the respondent to make a personal response., and the final question invited any further reflections not covered by the previous five.

Are there any aspects of your own work or practice that you feel are defined by Glasgow? If so, what are they and how would you describe Glasgow's influence?

Can you name any other Glasgow-based artists with whom you feel an affinity? What shared characteristics do you have with them?

If you had to describe Glaswegian performance in three sentences, or phrases, or even words... what would these be?

Are there any events or festivals throughout the year that you would say are influential in developing particular sorts of work? This could apply to both theatre and non-theatrical events.

How would you describe your own practice (as an artist or participant in the arts in whatever form)?

Do you have any further thoughts on the relationship of the performance arts and Glasgow?

Although the questions mention at no point the idea of a theatre community, there is a hidden assumption behind the questions that the answers will identify Glasgow as a community. This follows Carlson's quotation, in Performance, A Critical Introduction,  of Margaret Wilkerson's assertion that 'theatre provides an opportunity for a community to come together and reflect upon itself,' and his conclusion that the theatrical event has always been about 'shaping' community (Carlson, 1996: p197). 

The question are designed to encourage reflection on relationships - in terms of influence, shared affinities and defining events. Only the fifth question focuses on the individual’s practice - and this is included to help identify the artist’s particular perspective and interests.

Having decided on the questions, I then decided to pick a single week to distribute the questionnaire. This might reflect my critic’s training, with a desire for a short period of time with a tight deadline: more trenchantly, I wanted to contain the responses to a particular time period to emphasis the temporality of the survey. This is a snapshot rather than a comprehensive study.

Given the tumult of  the past year, it also seemed to me that the last week of August was a good moment to pick. The Commonwealth Games and The Edinburgh Festivals had concluded and the Autumn Season - which usually begins with Arches Live! had yet to kick in. It is a relatively stable week, in which no major performances are being launched, the hectic activity of the Fringe has finished, and it marks the start of a new academic year. Hopefully, these factors make it conducive to reflection.

The next step was to distribute the questionnaire. Using, once again,  my critical techniques, I decided on a series of email interviews: the questions would be sent, with explanations of their use, and the selected participants would reply at their leisure.

Over the past decade, I have had the experience of several different types of interview: face-to-face, over the phone and via email or Facebook (and other social media). Each approach has its advantages, but email appeared to be the most effective for this survey. First of all, it gave time for the respondent to consider and adjust their replies - interviews conducted in ‘live’ time demand an immediate response that might not reflect the respondent’s full opinion. It also cuts out the danger of mistranscription - a particular problem with interviews recorded over the phone. Finally, my face-to-face interviews tend to be discursive, and, as in my interviews for Subcity Radio, might  wander around the subject, be deeply fascinating and enjoyable but fail to get to the point.

I also realised that in a face-to-face interview, there is a problem of ‘academic hygiene.’ The bland tone of the questions sent did its best to obscure any assumptions that I might have about the identity of Glasgow performance - and when I introduced the survey to the community, I made a point of stating that I did not know what the answer would be. Although that is true, the danger in a face-to-face interview is that it might become a dialogue, with my opinions influencing the outcome, thanks to my sunny disposition and genuine interest in conversations with artists.

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