What audiences really want from theatre

Using neuroscience to understand what makes people enjoy theatre

Following my last post about the effects of theatre on audiences, I came across another interesting study. The National Theatre with the University of Reading (UK) used neuroscience to understand what makes people value, attend and come back to theatre. 

Focusing on actual attenders and demographics when analysing audiences can be deceptive. Demographics do not determine who values theatre, nor does frequency of attendance, especially when looking at annual attendance. The study finds that “only 65% of people who consider theatre a valuable use of their leisure time had attended a play or musical in in last 12 months. While only 50% of people who agree that they would like to go the theatre more often, had been actually been in the last 12 months. Thus, by focussing on those who attach a value to theatre, rather than simply those who attend on an annual basis, we increase the size of population we are considering.”

The research identifies some core values of theatre that are true across all demographics, they are: creative, social, memorable. There are two further groups of values, but they skew to different demographics: 
– Theatre gives perspective and offers learning – this skews younger, higher educated and ethnically more diverse, 
– Escapism and fun – this skews older, less educated and less ethnically diverse

The study also finds that theatre attendance is not as passive as it may seem, the brain is working in different ways while we watch. The ability of theatre to change mood state – to raise morale and give emotional release – is a key influencer on the decision to attend. 

You can watch the recording of a webinar about the study and/or read the report

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Author: sabine.doolin

Strategy consultant working with the cultural sector

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