Is Theatre Personally and Socially Relevant?

Empirical Insight into Theatrical Experience


  • Maja Šorli University of Ljubljana
  • Hedi-Liis Toome University of Tartu



STEP City Study, Relevance, Empirical study, Reception research, Theatrical experience, Quantitative survey, Focus groups, Performance analysis, Tartu, Tyneside


In the years 2009–2015, a comparison of theatre systems in seven smaller European cities was conducted and named the STEP City Study. The study also included reception research, conducted with an extensive questionnaire, and qualitative research comprised of focus groups and interviews with audience members. One of the surprising results showed that, generally, the spectators enjoyed the performances a lot, but at the same time, did not rate them as very personally or socially relevant. That is why we decided to explore the notion of relevance in this article, or in other words, to examine what we are measuring when we ask the audience if the performance was relevant for them. In this study, we combine audience research and performance analysis of the shows that were evaluated as the most personally or socially relevant. The shows had either existential or contemporary political topics, were created in rather traditional ways, and did not stand out in any particularly innovative theatrical approach. We also conclude that relevance is a complex issue expressed in different dimensions of theatrical experience and cannot be straightforwardly measured.

Author Biographies

Maja Šorli, University of Ljubljana

Maja Šorli is Research Fellow at the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television of the University of Ljubljana (AGRFT UL), editor-in-chief of the journal of performing arts theory Amfiteater, a dramaturge and psychodrama trainee. In 2014 her monograph Slovenska postdramska pomlad [The Slovenian Postdramatic Spring] was published by MGL Library. She is a co-editor of three monographs, Skupnost emancipiranih misli in teles [Society of Emancipated Thoughts and Bodies] (2018), Hibridni prostori umetnosti [Hybrid Spaces of Art] (2012) and Dinamika sprememb v slovenskem gledališču 20. Stoletja [The Dynamics of Change in the 20th-Century Slovenian Theatre] (2010).

Hedi-Liis Toome, University of Tartu

Hedi-Liis Toome (PhD) is a lecturer of theatre studies at the Institute of Cultural Research at the University of Tartu, Estonia. In her research, she mostly studies the relationship between theatre and society, more particularly theatre audiences and reception and the functioning of theatre systems. She is the head of Estonian Association of Theatre Researchers and Theatre Critics, she is also teaching at the Estonian Academy of Arts and has worked on administrative positions in theatres and theatre organisations. Since 2010, she is a member of and international research group STEP (Project on European Theatre Systems).


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How to Cite

Šorli, M., & Toome, H.-L. (2019). Is Theatre Personally and Socially Relevant? Empirical Insight into Theatrical Experience. Nordic Theatre Studies, 30(2), 115–132.



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