As we developed a scenario for Moonshot we consulted with two-dozen theatre makers and leaders in Chicago and with researchers and theatre experts across the country.* Their thoughts, suggestions, and criticisms helped us shape Moonshot, and we will continue to sound out experts from theatre and other fields throughout the project.
We quickly realized that the best approach to understanding the complex, often intuitive, and sometimes unarticulated considerations and processes theatres use to select repertoire and plan seasons would be case studies -- up close, in depth, and detailed examinations of how real theatres do the work. Moonshot is designed to understand and improve a process. Other research methods are useful for finding and tracking broad trends, but don’t provide access to the necessary depth of understanding. Case studies won’t tells us the proportion of theatre companies in Chicago that have literary managers, but they can tell us the specific roles that participants in the process, including literary managers, play in a variety of companies.
We intend Moonshot to advance the work of the case study theatres, and be of value to the field as well. We expect there will be high level learnings that will be useful for many theatres. We worried about how to identify a sample from which we could generalize and draw conclusions of value to such a large and variegated field. A “representative sample” is a conceptual oxymoron when it comes to theatres. There are simply too many ways to slice and dice the theatrical universe to cover every category with the limited resources we expected to be available for a research project. Justin Berg, a Stanford researcher who has studied how circuses select new acts, helped us think through this problem: He suggested we focus on an “extreme sample” of repertoire decisions by a small sample of theatres -- decisions that led to particularly positive outcomes, and others that led to outcomes on the other end of the spectrum within each case study. Extreme sampling will make possible careful comparison of the practices associated with the most positive outcomes, and those associated with poorer outcomes. We are not certain, of course, that we will find differences, or that if we do, they will be the decisive contributors to the outcomes. We do expect, though, that those comparisons, at the very least, will lead to new ideas about how to make the process more efficient and reflective.
* Including the League of Chicago Theatres and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, researchers from UIC, NORC at the University of Chicago, Stanford Business School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School, Theatre Communications Group, Arts Action Research, Herberger Institute at Arizona State University, and Helicon Collaborative; and with several local and national funders.