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Audience Agency data shows ageing demographic of theatregoers

Theatre 2016 conference in May. Photo: Alex Brenner Theatre 2016 conference in May. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Theatre risks failing to replenish its ageing audiences with a new generation because young people are looking to other art forms, research has claimed.

This is the claim of new research from the Audience Agency, which includes data from more than 500 venues and 10.6 million households. It suggested that the average age of theatre audiences will increase over the next decade.

An estimated 40% of English households attend the theatre, but just 15% see two or more shows a year, the Audience Agency said. The data added that theatre came lowest on the list of cultural activities people would recommend to their friends.

The data found that the largest age group for theatre audiences was people between the ages of 65 and 74, with the average age of an audience member being 52.

It suggested that the average age is set to increase “considerably” over the next 10 years if the profile of theatregoers remains the same and organisations do not reach out to different audiences.

Audience Agency chief executive Anne Torreggiani said that while the average age of theatregoers was increasing, audiences were not being replenished with young people, who over the next decade could instead look to other art forms.

“Our data suggests that younger audiences tend to prefer other art forms, so they are perhaps engaging more with other performing art forms, more contemporary art possibly, and museums are doing well with those groups,” she told The Stage.

Through the Audience Agency’s Audience Finder tool, which splits the population into groups linked to their household and postcode, it has been identified that the three groups engaging most highly with the arts represent 60% of theatre audiences, but just 22% of the population.

The Audience Agency claimed that these top three theatregoing groups were set to age at a faster rate than the population over the next 10 years.

Torreggiani went on to say: “By 2026, if we’re not careful, we could be feeling really confident because we’ll see an increase with the frequency in which people are coming to the theatre, we’ll probably see an increase in how much some people are willing to pay for it, but it also looks as though our audience will be getting older and not necessarily being replenished.

“There’s a danger that theatre audiences could look very healthy in 2026 without us noticing that we are increasingly failing to engage that younger audience, who are engaging with culture in a different way at the moment.”

The data was originally presented at industry conference Theatre 2016.

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