National Theatre’s Phedre cinema screening attracts lower income audiences

Natalie Woolman
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Research into the National Theatre’s live screening of Phedre last year has revealed the cinema audiences had a lower average income than theatregoers who saw the performance in the NT’s South Bank home.

However, 91.3% of the cinema-goers had seen a play within the last year, and 41.3% had been to the National Theatre within the last 12 months, according to a report published by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

The research shows that 24.5% of the Phedre cinema audience earned less than £20,000 per annum, compared with 15.8% of the theatre audience. At the other end of the scale, 12.9% of people watching the performance in the cinema earned more than £50,000, compared with 25.5% of those sitting in the National Theatre.

The NESTA briefing, which is based on audience surveys from the first NT Live pilot – Phedre – states that almost 30% of cinema respondents claimed they were more likely to attend a play at another theatre in future as a result of the screening. Just under 90% said they were more likely to go to other live broadcasts of theatre productions.

Cinema audiences also reported higher levels of emotional engagement with the performance than those watching it at the NT, with 60.6% of cinema audience responses strongly agreeing that they felt “totally absorbed” in the production compared with 38% in the theatre.

NESTA Creative Industries director Hasan Bakhshi admitted that he did not expect this level of emotional engagement from the cinema audiences. He added that he had also been struck by the fact the “liveness” of the performance was as important for the cinemagoers as the people at the theatre.

He said: “Somehow, this technology allowed the theatre to break the physical constraints that are presented by traditional theatre and actually managed to maintain the “live” and, in some ways, rather surprisingly, develop it.”

From the research, it seems that the National Theatre was able to draw on the relationships cinemas across the country had already established with their audiences – over half the respondents who saw Phedre in the cinema found out about the screening through their cinema.

NESTA’s research briefing entitled Beyond Live is part of a wider study by Bakhshi and Professor David Throsby into innovation in arts and cultural institutions. The full research report will be published this spring.

The National Theatre is currently planning the second season of NT Live, which is due to begin in the autumn.

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