“The best theatre should be like gym for the soul”
– Anne Bogart
Recently at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the LA Stage Alliance explored the intrinsic impact of live theatre in the first of their LA STAGE Talks series. But how does one go about measuring how theatre affects its audience members when an individual walks away from a show with no quantifiable differences? The piece touched you/changed your life/challenged you/made you think? Great. But how do you show that?
For the researchers involved in this study, their answer was a U.S.-wide survey. The lead researcher Alan Brown asserted, “If you can describe something, you can measure it.” And so they went off to help 18 theatres better understand what kept their patrons coming back.
Perhaps the most interesting part of their findings were their results on the motivations for attending a production.
For most, a primary motivation was “to relax or escape,” which goes up significantly with age, and then tapers off. The second most popular motivation was the desire “to be emotionally moved or inspired,” which also increased with age, before leveling off. Ranking third was “to spend time with family members,” which rises during the child rearing years, and then, “plunges” later.
Another interesting motivation was “to re-visit a familiar work of art,” especially true in cases of classic musical theatre pieces and staples such as the Nutcracker and Christmas Carol, which served as a primary reason for older theatergoers to attend.
Interestingly, the motivation “being invited by someone else,” was highly recorded throughout the results. Brown was able to report that “an invitation from a friend explains half of all art participation.”
The last one speaks greatly to the idea of art as a community. We often forget the power of people and the strength of word of mouth. Theatre cannot exist without the audience. Thus it is as necessary to cultivate a great audience as it is to find a great cast when working on a piece. The two are interdependent. The crowd will sustain the theatre, and the theatre will sustain the crowd.
What are some of your reasons for getting down to the theatre?