Age Trends and Diversity in Big Theatre

I once had the occasion to speak with a candidate for a marketing position at a large regional theatre. I asked this person what she would do to attract a greater number of young theatre-goers to the audience. To my surprise, she stated sweepingly that nothing could be done to accomplish this. Further, the notion that marketing could solve the problem of lack of younger audience members (by younger I mean early 40s and younger), was “arrogant.”

The bleeding of younger audience members (i.e., those who would, were they to exist, go on to become older, that is, wealthier, audience members, and donors) is a fantasy, a fiction. We should not worry. This idea seemed in keeping with the theatre’s leadership and the woman was subsequently hired.

The average age of the touring Broadway theatregoer was 51 years, up from 48 years in the 2002 season.
The average age of the Broadway theatregoer was 42 years old. Theatregoers under 18 years old accounted for nearly 1.2 million tickets, a drop from 1.3 million in the previous season, but still relatively high.
Audiences…greatest concentration in the 45-64 age groups. The smaller of the companies tend to attract a younger audience…Only 17.6% of the respondents have children under 18 in the home, suggesting that families may be a significant untapped market for these companies.
TAMA Survey Numbers
• The problem, according to an article in the LA Weekly, is that fewer and fewer people have had any encounter with live theater in high school or college, and today’s reigning playwrights always seem to be a generation or two older than the 30-somethings who traditionally form the youngest tier of theatergoing audiences.

When it comes to that magic bean “diversity,” in many theatres it seems to be of a piece with the smug lack of worry about age.

I was told that virtually all the diversity and audience-building focus at one large regional theatre in Oregon is exclusively focused on the African-American community. This in a state which, according to the U.S. Census, African-Americans represent 1.8% of the population. That’s a smaller representation than Asian (3.4%) and Hispanic (9.5%). And far and away above that is the percentage of Oregonians who live below the poverty level. 12%. 12%! That’s 7 times more poor people in the state than African-Americans.

To over-focus on one group is unjust as well as unwise for audience development. I get the uncomfortable feeling that part of this possible monomania is powered by its efficacy in appealing to the wealthy out-of-state liberals who partially fund this theatre and others like it. It strikes a real “black folk are good marketing” vibe. Who’s that fair to? Black audience members, actual or potential?

Well, maybe poor people make awful marketing mascots. “The poor will always be with us,” I hear. Just not in the theatre.

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1 Comment

  1. Amanda Matilda says:

    I took my 12-year-old daughter to OSF for the first time this summer. We picked out two non-Shakespeare plays–plays on the lighter side. We saw Bus Stop and The Importance of Being Earnest. She LOVED the shows and, before we left, was picking out the shows she wanted to see next year. Unfortunately, we won’t be back next year. Maybe the year after, maybe not. My husband and I come fairly often without the kids, but find OSF just too expensive to use as a family vacation.

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