One of the most visible sectors to suffer as a result of COVID lockdowns and increased concern over public spaces, was theater. Broadway, for example, was shuttered for 18 months. And since then, the future of theater – which has historically drawn an older, more affluent crowd – has been less certain. It’s been reported that theaters across the country have still not returned to pre-pandemic ticket sale levels.
How do Americans feel about attending theater performances now? Current data show that 19% of U.S. adults attend a show every few months, while 10% go at least monthly.
And those who are going to theatrical performances the most often today are more likely to be younger. More than half of Gen Z adults (51%) and 44% of Millennials say they attend at least every few months, compared to 19% of those 55 and older. This signals a noteworthy shift in age demographics from December 2019 – the 55-and-up crowd is more likely to say they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ attend live theater today, while significant increases in attendance can be seen among under-35 respondents from pre-pandemic levels.
This may or may not be the result of older Americans taking more precautions in a post-lockdown world and/or losing interest in attending live events. CivicScience data show that the drive for in-person entertainment is much higher among young adults, who are also significantly more likely to go to a movie theater.
In a similar vein, those who are making less money are also going more often, likely due to the new younger theater-goers – which could mean that box offices are selling more lower-priced tickets, potentially earning less overall.
However, when compared to musical theater, dance and opera, live theater still draws the biggest interest, with 32% of Americans planning to attend or expressing an interest in attending. Musical theater, however, is not far behind, with 28% expressing their interest. Overall, close to half (47%) of U.S. adults polled expressed plans or interest in attending at least one type of theater performance.
So what is the future of theater? With primarily young, lower-income adults showing interest, it’s clear that theater has plenty of potential heading into 2023, however the high price of tickets for Broadway performances could be a barrier to boosting lagging ticket sales. However, the long-term impacts of these changing demographics of the theater-goer are yet to be seen.
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