Gemma @ 'Mrs. Murray's Menagerie' - It’s a struggle, my friends

What’s it about?

Participants in a paid focus group in the ‘70s discuss a popular children’s television show.

My experience.

Wikipedia defines a focus group as “a small, but demographically diverse group of people whose reactions are studied, especially in market research or political analysis, in guided or open discussions about a new product or something else to determine the reactions that can be expected from a larger population.”

I have participated in more focus groups than I can count since I turned 18. Focus groups are worth my time for three major reasons:

  1. They typically only take an hour or two.

  2. They usually provide food.

  3. AND (drum roll please)… They PAY PARTICIPANTS FOR THEIR TIME!

And times are tough, especially if you are trying to, ya know, not go bankrupt while living in New York City. It’s a struggle my friends.

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This is why I have a focus group lady. For her own privacy, I won’t reveal her real name or the company she is affiliated with. I will refer to her from here on out as Pam, just because I never miss an opportunity to allude to The Office 🏢in some way.

For every person Pam successfully brings in to help fill a focus group, she receives a commission. So, whenever there is a focus group she thinks I would be a good fit for, she gives me a call. And if I am available, you can bet your ass I am participating. The way I see it, I literally can’t afford not to. Plus it’s a win-win for me and Pam, because we both get money!

However, I do feel the need to say that focus groups are, in my mind, inherently flawed, just as people are flawed. The participants’ main motivation for attending is probably the fact that they will receive money afterward. I do personally try to provide feedback that is as honest as possible, but at the end of the day, I prioritize my compensation over everything else, and I would argue that the same applies for the majority of focus group participants.

Mrs. Murray's Menagerie is at Greenwich House, which is cool as far as venues go because it feels like a real house you are visiting versus a more traditional type of theatre space. My ticket was in the form of an X stamped on my hand that was only viewable under a black light. I found the way the interior space was used to be incredibly realistic. Despite the fact that the play was set in the 1970s, I could very much envision myself participating in a focus group located in such a neutral space. There was actual steaming hot coffee in what looked like a working kitchen and actual doughnuts on the table. I have to admit that I was craving a doughnut the ENTIRE show. I was so ready for dessert afterwards, I had to grab a chocolate cone at Big Gay Ice Cream. 🏳️‍🌈🍦

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A very nervous man with his left arm in both a cast and a sling came in. He attempted to enter the office located up the stairs, but was frustrated to find the door locked. Disappointed and annoyed, he came downstairs to grab a chocolate doughnut (good choice) from the kitchen and put down his belongings before setting up the table with folded pieces of paper for the focus group participants to write their names on. His name was Jim, and he was assisting the upcoming focus group at Dale’s command. Dale, the mustachioed leader of the focus group, was civil enough, but often cruel when it came to his treatment of Jim.

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The table of focus group participants consisted of June, Wayne, Earnest, Gloria, Celeste (Cici) and Roger (Rog). I sat in one of the front rows that bordered the space. Due to my position, I could only see the back of Wayne and the sides of Gloria and Celeste, but could make out nearly everything and everyone else clearly. Dale began by having the participants go around the table and introduce themselves, tell the group their children’s ages, and then read off a questionnaire their children had filled out about them.

It was all pretty cute and funny… at first. The grown-ups would take turns giving their opinions on a show their children all adored while Jim would scramble to jot down all of the notes. But it wasn’t long before things got passive-aggressive, and I was reminded of that scene from Game of Thrones when Sansa and Dany got all fake smiley with each other.

When I pictured the fictional children’s show, Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie, I thought of a hybrid between Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street. I was surprised, and somewhat amused, by how deep some of the discussions got during the focus group. Dale would try to gather information from everyone, like whether a fortune teller cat puppet named Gypsy was perceived as sexy, or if certain puppets were perceived as Caucasian or African-American. Throughout the room, there was underlying sexism and racism present in some (if not all) of the focus group participants and definitely in Dale. Parents started to butt heads not only on opinions about the TV show, but on philosophies and parenting styles. I was glad I wasn’t a member of the focus group myself, because as entertaining as it was to watch other people go through, it wasn’t something I would want to experience. I remember feeling like they couldn’t pay me enough to have to put up with that passive-aggressive bullshit. But let’s get real, there’s a price for everything. 🤷‍♀️

See it:

#SEEN IT?

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