It’s weird, I turned 40 last month, and suddenly I have a hankering to go see a play.

I attended a play the other night. The audience demographic let’s just say was skewed toward the blue rinse crowd. The average age of the crowd appeared to be about 70. So, this was not just a grey-haired crowd, it was a thinning and what remains is white, white, white hair crowd. And they all knew each other, and the guy at the box office, the lady at the concession stand, and the guy who was handing out programmes. It’s their thing. The place they go where everybody knows their name.

And it got me to thinking…

trashing theatreThere’s a lot of talk in the theatre community about the ‘greying’ of our audience. Like, as seems to be happening with my friends, we started off with a group in their twenties and as the years have passed our get togethers are with a much greyer crowd. The extension of that belief is that once the current crowd dies off, that will be it for theatre. Better just send it off to the glue factory along with the lame petting zoo pony that bites when the five year old girls try to feed him carrots.

BUT, here’s my thought…

Maybe theatre is a rite of passage into middle age.

What if becoming a regular attendee at live theatre is like wine tasting or opera or classical music or oatmeal or reading Maeve Binchy novels? What if a large chunk of the population doesn’t acquire a taste for it until middle age? I don’t see many twenty year-olds doing a wine tour, eating oatmeal, or going to the symphony. (I know SOME do, maybe even lots, {so don’t be telling me that I’m wrong because you’re only 22 and you LOVE all these things, you are the exception, not the rule} but the bulk of the people involved in these activities, well, they’ve got some kilometres on the old speedometer.)

And I’m not saying we should stop trying to widen our audience. We should continue to get young people into the theatre, keep moving the art form forward, keep putting the word ‘edgy’ into our press releases, continue to find ways to (ooh, look I’m going for the grant-speak) engage our community.

I just think that as long as people continue to get older, (and although I’m not a fan of that myself, I have not yet found a way to stop it, well, except for dying, and I hardly think that counts) that they will also continue to discover theatre, as long as we’re there and fairly easy to be discovered

Look at the theatre companies that target the young audiences. They aren’t fretting that their audience window is like a maximum of 10 years. They know that people continue to have children and so their audience pool continues to renew itself. Bonus, if they played to a child who twenty years later brings their own child to the theatre. They’ve really done some audience development there.

But just like their will always be children. There will also always be the middle-aged and the elderly.

So, I vote for not fretting about it anymore.

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About Tentative Equinox North

Theatremaker, Homemaker, Thoughtmaker. Great hair, Probably looking forward to my next nap.
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2 Responses to It’s weird, I turned 40 last month, and suddenly I have a hankering to go see a play.

  1. Ryan Mooney says:

    Love the article! There’s always this fear of an audience dying off — but they will always renew themselves, and hopefully – grow.

    The other thing – is attempting to make theatre “hip” for a young audience, so doing shows that portray situations that they can relate to (I heard this GREAT company called Fighting Chance just did a show called tick tick boom about an artist turning 30 ;) ANYWAYS – the point is if we make wine tours, oatmeal, and books hipper for the younger crowd then they will come. We’re finding more and more that our audience is a younger demographic, who wants to keep coming back.

    Shows like Altar Boyz at the Arts Club are a great addition too.

    BUT on the flip side you have certain theatre companies who pick British shows that cater to a particular demographic. Just as I’m sure the blue hairs won’t be lining up to see Rent, I can assume that my generation won’t be lining up to see Arsenic and Old Lace :)

    Great post again.

    • Hey nice to see you Ryan Mooney. And you know what else about tick tick boom? My bet is that a lot of people in that audience knew each other too. It’s their place where at least some people know their name.

      So, yes, I totally agree that the audience for Rent and Arsenic and Old Lace will be very different.

      Maybe my point is not to worry about the age of your audience so much as concentrating energy and resources into finding your audience — your right people.

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