We were awarded an Arts Connect THRIVE Research & Development bursary 2020-21 to explore how young people 14-25 engage with short-form digital content. Our aim was to use this R&D to reflect on and innovate our short-form theatre writing practice, while developing strategies to build up our younger audience.

As part of the project, we surveyed young people about their viewing – what drew them in, which content they returned to, what made them switch off. We particularly wanted to focus on characterisation, structure and tone, and focused our research on 14-17 year-olds and 18-25 year olds. Our findings suggested that both groups valued strong characterisation in their viewing choices and they particularly enjoyed comedy. Far from rejecting traditional TV drama, they actually enjoyed it and returned to it frequently, in addition to self-produced tiktok and niche/special interest content.

As part of our R&D, we explored virtual reality and augmented reality theatre and how that can be used to appeal to a younger audience. We also consulted academics, researching web series and their contrasting narrative structures, as well as transmedia where a story is told across different platforms delivering narrative in whichever way best suits each platform, e.g. a crowd-sourced whodunnit like The Last Hours of Laura K.

A current focus for us is interactivity, where the audience’s role is one of interrogator of – even participant in – our stories, fully invested in them, rather than a passive spectator consuming a fixed narrative.

Our project was complicated by lockdown and the closure of schools and colleges in January 2021, but we were lucky to secure other routes to elicit survey responses. We shared our findings online last summer with a public audience, other THRIVE bursary holders and Local Cultural and Educational Partnerships. Our thanks to Arts Connect for funding our research and supporting us throughout the project.

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