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Touring shows make up 60% of box office

'Big-hitter' touring musicals include The Lion King. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
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Touring shows account for £6 out of every £10 spent in theatres nationwide, according to new figures.

Data supplied by industry body UK Theatre reveals that touring shows, which are only 10% of all productions, made £280 million at the box office in 2016, accounting for 60% of total box office income.

Musicals are the driving force behind the income from touring shows, accounting for nearly two thirds (64%) of touring box office and 55% of tickets sold for tours between 2012 and 2016 at UK Theatre member venues, which are predominantly outside London.

By contrast, just 20% of box office income for touring productions came from plays, indicating that musicals dominate the touring market.

The figures, which were presented at the UK Theatre Touring Symposium 2017, also showed that almost half the income from plays at major producing houses came from touring dramas in the past four years.

Vice president for the UK and Europe at TRG Arts David Brownlee, who will present the figures at the UK Theatre Touring Symposium today, said: “The model has changed over the last 20 years and lots of producing houses are in a position where their budgets are stretched and there are more co-productions. They are looking for high-quality work and are more open to working collaboratively.”

Brownlee added that touring plays generated a greater income overall than non-touring plays, as they are consumed more widely.

According to the figures, 2015 was a particularly strong year for plays, which generated nearly £90 million in box office income. This could be linked to the high proportion of touring plays, which accounted for 64% of revenue. In contrast, 2016 was a weaker year, with dramas seeing a drop in revenue of 12% compared with the previous year.

The statistics also showed that the average ticket price paid for a touring production in 2016 was £28.07, compared with £20.87 for a non-touring production.

Head of UK Theatre Cassie Chadderton said: “This snapshot of figures shows how vital touring continues to be to the health of our industry. The Touring Symposium brings leaders across the performing arts together to discuss how we can sustain the offer of high-quality theatre for audiences.”

Chris McGuigan, group director of marketing and sales at Qdos Entertainment Group, said regional audiences had responded well to “big-hitter” touring musicals such as The Lion King, Wicked and Jersey Boys.

He added: “The dominance of musicals within the regional programme mix ought to be good news in terms of overall ticket revenues. Conversely, the market for mid-scale touring drama remains challenging and the number of touring productions is relatively light as a result.

“This must remain an area of focus for the sector as regional theatre really thrives when a balanced programme of quality content from all genres is available.”

Deborah Aydon, executive director at Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse, described touring productions as a “vital creative complement” to the theatre’s home-produced work.

She said: “We are now working more closely with touring producers, crafting a bespoke relationship with each and looking to the long term.

“Each relationship may include co-commissioning or specifically tailored work with our communities. The goal is for Liverpool audiences to feel as much ownership of these touring companies as they feel for productions that are made in Liverpool.”

Data for the research came from UK Theatres’s 200 member theatres as well as 19 Society of London Theatre members. Full UK Theatre box office statistics for 2016 will be released at a later date.

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