May Midnight Matinee: The Curious Case of the Disappearing Audience

Just where was the audience at last week’s Tristan Bates Midnight Matinee? In 2009 it was one of Time Out’s picks of the year garnished with incredibly positive audience feedback.  But there’s no denying that it was both disappointingly flat on Saturday and woefully under attended.  I had experienced a similar feeling at the last one.  Was my experience a freak incident or proof that this initially arresting idea may be losing its attraction through the very gimmicks that it once sold itself on so proudly?

I put my detective’s hat on and spoke to some regular Midnight Matinee goers about this critical state of affairs.  This is what I have concluded (although I admit I am no Sherlock Holmes); it seems the problem is threefold:

  • Firstly this event suffers from an identity crisis (something I would suggest is possibly a wider issue faced by this venue).  The question seems always ‘What kind of work will you find at a Midnight Matinee?’ Having been to two I am still unsure as to the answer to this; not a great way to hook in an audience.
  • Secondly whilst the above wouldn’t matter if the acts were household names, the workshop feel of the event predicates that these are up and coming artists who consequently don’t have a big base of regular punters either.  And although the work is always interesting and unique, the quality of it is sometimes questionable – if people catch it on an off night then they’re not coming back. 
  • Thirdly and lastly The Tristan Bates front of house and studio areas have an inherent institutional feeling to them, it is after all the home of The Actors Centre.  A Midnight Matinee, far from feeling like a creative space where anything could happen, gives the sense of being at school out of hours, though significantly without any of the naughty undertones that this may engender.

It may sound like I’m bemoaning this event’s existence but that would be to mis-understand me.  In principle they are wonderfully adventurous and I don’t think that The Tristan Bates should just chuck the baby out with the bath water and stop them altogether.   But it does seem that they have staled somewhat as the disappearing audience shows baldly.  So how to solve this disturbing conundrum?  Here are a few suggestions I prepared earlier:

  • The cheekiness of having a matinee at night should be kept but moved to a slightly earlier slot – say 9 to 12 – enabling audiences to taste TBT’s delights whilst not stealing their precious early morning weekend debauchery. 
  • They should happen less (maybe every other month) to expand the list of acts on offer at each event and mix up new artists with more established ones for a more structured, fuller programme.  This would mean that audience would be always engaged and that a standard of work could be expected and delivered at each event. 
  • There should be a clearer mission statement for each Midnight Matinee that somehow links each artist’s individual journey into a cohesive creative question or bent that everyone, both the artists and the audience, can universally get behind and explore.

Well those are my conclusions, and I’ve heard several others, including externally curated Matinees by established artists or playing with the location.  But what are your thoughts? I love the idea of the Midnight Matinee, it’s an idea that engenders interest in anyone who hears it, but for some reason is not inspiring return visitors.  This is a conundrum that needs to be solved.

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