Audiences considering returning to theatres are making fewer bookings than they were earlier during lockdown and are showing an increasing desire to avoid large gatherings, according to newly released data.
The proportion of UK theatregoers and arts attendees actively booking tickets has dropped from 17% to 15% between April and May, the second wave of a large audience survey found.
Around 50,000 regular audience members contributed to the second part of research by culture consultancy Indigo Ltd, which has been investigating attitudes towards returning to theatre and live entertainment after the pandemic.
In total, 137,000 audience members, attending 317 cultural organisations across the UK, have so far participated in Indigo’s research, which the company hopes will help the sector plan its route out of lockdown.
The first wave covered the period between April 16 and May 6, with the second wave covering May 7 to 27.
Compared with the first set of results, published last month, there has been a significant increase in audiences booking tickets from January 2021 onwards, rising from 26% to 32%.
In comparison, the number of people booking for events between now and October has fallen.
In other findings, 43% said they would not consider booking tickets again for at least four months, similar to the 41% in the first wave, indicating ongoing hesitancy from audiences around returning to shows this year.
While theatres are likely to remain closed for some time – this week the West End extended its closure period until August – some have expressed the desire to reopen in the autumn, with many hoping to welcome audiences back for the festive period.
The new data set also shows an increase in the percentage of people who would prefer to stay away from large gatherings.
This figure has grown from 28% in the first wave to 34%. Just 19% of respondents said they would feel comfortable returning to venues as soon as they are allowed to reopen, the same figure as in the first wave of the survey.
When asked what would make going to a venue feel safer, there was an increase in those citing social distancing measures.
Now, eight out of 10 respondents said they would feel more comfortable if some form of social distancing were in place, with 80% claiming that imposing limits on the number of attendees would make a difference to them, and 68% wanting seats spaced two metres apart.
The industry has strongly rejected the possibility of social distancing in theatre as a viable solution, arguing that mandatory distancing regulations would make staging shows financially and practically impossible.
The survey also registered an increase in popularity for on-site health monitoring, such as temperature checks, which is being explored by theatre operators looking to make venues safer for audiences to return to.
Respondents were also asked what types of venues they would be happy to return to. The second wave of results saw small decreases in confidence for all types of event except large outdoor performances, which 52% said they would be happy to attend. This is an increase from 49% in the first survey.
A second study by Indigo is already underway. It will continue to track audience confidence around returning to events, but will also explore ongoing attitudes to digital content and to outdoor performance.