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News (National): The Performing Arts Genome Project

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News (National): The Performing Arts Genome Project


A coalition of industry and academic collaborators announced today the Performing Arts Genome Project: a comprehensive analysis of the performing arts to power personalized show recommendations.

Traditional approaches to recommendation systems, such as those for videos, music, or books, rely on analyzing the content and collecting user ratings and reviews over time to power the recommendations. The ephemeral nature of live arts requires a different approach: the domain needs to be carefully modeled so that shows can be recommended even before opening night.

The Performing Arts Genome relies on a knowledge base of shows, companies and artists, as well as critic reviews and industry awards. This data has been made possible by contributions from a number of key industry stakeholders, including SummerWorksToronto Fringe, the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA)Toronto Theatre Database and Theatre Museum Canada.

“When people are searching for entertainment options online, most users spend only a few minutes searching for content,” says Jacoba Knaapen, Executive Director of TAPA. “If they don’t find something of interest quickly, they are likely to go somewhere else, as there are so many other options to choose from. Developing discovery solutions for live performance could be critical for TAPA members in helping audiences quickly find matched content that fits their tastes.”

The Performing Arts Genome Project is tackling two main challenges: a) modeling the individual dimensions, or “genes,” that dictate our preferences for live arts, such as genres, mood, tone, form, content and features, and b) measuring the collection of genes, the “genome,” for companies, artists, venues and works of live performance using a combination of machine learning and manual curation. This work has a number of applications, including matching algorithms, recommender systems and discovery tools that help people find work that fits their taste profile and needs.

“Everyone has a unique relationship with live performance – no one has exactly the same tastes or needs, especially when it comes to accessibility. So delivering a great experience to every audience member requires a comprehensive and vast understanding of the entire sector, which simply doesn’t exist today,” says Mariel Marshall, CEO and founder of Toronto-based startup StagePage Ltd. The company is a live-arts intelligence company providing a domain specific recommender system for performing arts organizations to grow their audiences.

The Toronto Fringe, a grassroots, charitable organization which presents over 150 shows annually, is using the technology to power a personalized show recommendation engine for Next Stage festival audiences. A beta version of the quiz is available to try on the Toronto Fringe website at:

“The 2019 festival was the best-selling Toronto Fringe of all time. It’s a festival with something for everyone, but we want everyone to be able to navigate and access it,” says Executive Director Lucy Eveleigh. “Our recommendation engine can match a user with a specific show in less than a minute by asking a few simple questions, so it’s a great way to lower a potential barrier to entry.”

The Performing Arts Genome Project will release open-sector reports on key findings in three stages, with the first scheduled for February 2020. The project is made possible with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. For media inquiries, or to get involved, please contact

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