Theatrical Design and Audience Appreciation: The effect of house lighting on appreciation, empathy and self-awareness.
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The study aimed to investigate the practice of darkening an auditorium for a performance, and the effect that this has upon the audience’s appreciation towards a play, empathy for characters, and self-awareness during a performance. A pilot study and a main experiment were devised. The pilot measured the feasibility of a large experiment based around a theatrical performance, measuring audience feedback rates with a simple questionnaire, and involved interviews with members of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company about design elements in theatre and their effects. The main experiment involved producing a theatrical performance with the EUTC and altering major design elements (in this case, house lighting) over 2 performances in order to measure any effect. This effect was measured by participant self-report on a questionnaire, utilising a visual analogue scale to scale levels of appreciation, empathy and self-awareness. The study found that the presence of house lighting had no effect on the appreciation felt towards the show (F (3, 46) = .009, p>0.05), empathy felt toward the central theme of the performance (F (3,46) = .912, p>0.05), self-awareness in the first ten minutes (F (3,46) = .389, p>0.05) or self awareness in the last fifteen minutes (F (3,46) = .039, p>0.05). In addition, no significant correlation was found between empathy and appreciation (r(48) = .177, p>0.05). A significant correlation was found between self awareness at the beginning and at the end of the performance (r(48) = .357, p<0.05). The results suggest that appreciation towards, empathy for and self awareness during a show remain untouched by the lighting level in the auditorium. There is the suggestion that empathy towards the central theme of a performance is related to appreciation, due to a near-significant correlation (r(48) = .177). Questions are also raised regarding the correlation between self awareness at the start and end of the performance, when compared to the lack of effect between house lighting and self-awareness. The results found, however, are likely the result of weak statistical power (0.18 of a standard deviation), as they do not agree with published research. Future avenues of research are suggested, as the implications drawn from the analysis seem promising.