People Just Don’t Care About Theatre Anymore

Have you heard this before? I’ve heard it from people who should (and deep down probably do) know better. It’s been used as a justification for cutting arts funding. Overwhelmed and frustrated theatre marketers say it as they watch the number of entertainment options available in today’s world steadily increasing.

But it’s not true.

I get why people feel this way. And it’s kind of hard not to. So many theatres are watching their aging audience dwindle, and they are not seeing younger patrons coming in the door to fill the thinning ranks. Thanks to the lightening-fast development of technology there are new entertainment options competing for our audience almost daily.

It probably feels very similar to how theatre professionals felt when cinemas started popping up everywhere.

It probably feels very similar to how theatre professionals felt when cinemas started popping up everywhere.

But here’s the thing. People still care about theatre – just not in the same way. It’s no longer the only way to feel like they are connecting with artists. Going to the cinema (even an art house) feels a little bit corporate. It’s designed to maximize profit. When you go to the theatre the experience feels like it is driven by culture.

That hasn’t changed, of course. It’s just that today all I need is an internet connection and I can find all kinds of enriching artistic experiences without leaving my house. I can connect to actual artists (and not just corporate images) through YouTube and social media.

The good news is that can’t replace being in the same room where the tear-jerking moments and tidal waves of laughter are happening. There are things technology can do better, but being present for the creation of an authentic moment on stage is unique. That’s what theatre is. And you and I know that.

But people who are not regular theatre goers don’t.

It isn’t that large segments of the public have chosen to turn their back on what live performance really is. But they have lost interest in what they falsely assume it is – an entertainment experience for which they already have a completely equal substitute elsewhere.

If you want to attract a new audience, it isn’t just a matter of convincing them you have the best theatre production that ever was because that doesn’t mean anything to them. That’s a perfect approach to keep the theatre lovers coming back for more.

But to really reach a new audience? You must show (not tell) them how your production is unlike any experience they can find on any screen in the world.

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