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Theatre UK: Evolving and Engaging in 2013

Today we launch State of Play: Theatre UK, the second in our research series on live entertainment in the UK. The first report (published in 2012) was on festivals, which are inherently considered relatively wild and vibrant – with that in mind, we expected our research on theatre to be quite different and less ‘exciting’ in some ways. But we were wrong.

What we uncovered instead was that theatre is a highly emotional affair, with audiences engaging in a variety of ways, particularly given the variety of theatre on offer.  It is therefore a dynamic industry, characterised by three key trends: growing, evolving and diverse (also the sub-heading of our report).

The demand for theatre is already high, with 63% of the UK population attending at least one performance in the last year – but it’s also growing in popularity, with the majority of attendees planning to maintain or increase their theatre-going in the next couple of years. London audiences will be driving the growth (particularly across musicals and plays), though theatre attendees overall are likely to become yet more diverse.

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Ticketmaster’s transactional data found that theatre audiences are getting younger, with a 71% increase in 18-25 year olds buying theatre tickets since 2009 – our research findings align with this, showing that 16-19 year olds are most likely to attend the theatre than any other age group. The diversification in audiences therefore goes hand in hand with the evolution of theatre, reflecting changes in how it reaches and engages them, whether through new, more subversive/ interactive events or via innovative partnerships and initiatives such as the Travelex £12 National Theatre tickets.

Given that our world is becoming increasingly multi-platform and always-connected, there are also some implications on how people find out about shows of interest and how they use technology to spread the word and share their thoughts about performances they’ve (dis)liked.

However, what struck me most were the comments people made about why they go to the theatre and their most memorable theatre experience. This pretty much sums it up: “I like the atmosphere. I like to be close to the stage, and I love the costumes and scenery, it is visual and aural and emotional and intellectual.” Clearly this is an immersive artform that plays a big part in people’s lives and has a real impact on them – from family bonding and marriage proposals, to tears of joy and sorrow (for more than two in five attendees), people have experienced it all at the theatre.

The State of Play: Theatre UK report (PDF) is available to download here.