As the shut-down of theaters enters its third month, theater artists vow “we’ll be back” – that this is just intermission. But will audiences be back?
A new three-part survey by Shugoll Research attempts a tentative answer for that crucial question, assessing the current attitudes of a sample of theatergoers in D.C., in New York City, and, in this newest release, nationwide. The results suggest that half of theatergoers might want to wait out the new season, whenever it begins.
Fifty-eight percent of New York theatergoers (compared to 49 percent in D.C.) replied that they will probably wait a few months after the shows reopen. Nationwide (in 35 of the largest cities besides New York and D.C.), almost two thirds (63 percent) felt they will probably wait at least a few months; 29 percent said more than six months.
Even 57 percent of “frequent theatergoers” (defined as those who go to a play or musical at least four times a year) say they will probably wait a few months. And 45 percent of theatergoers aged 55 and older said they would wait at least six months before returning. It is particularly noteworthy that 45 percent of this age group also said they were likely to cut down the frequency of their attendance.
Some theaters in Washington, DC are hoping to open in the fall. In an interview with Mosaic Theater of DC, the company told DCTS that, as it stands now, their allowed seating capacity would be 25% and that they would be moving ahead under that restriction. When asked about whether anticipated attendance might, in fact, equal seats available, Mark Shugoll, President of Shugoll Research said “The survey reports all clearly say that while reduced seating capacity sounds impossible fiscally (and it still may be), it may be all the seats a theater can fill anyway” if theatergoers’ attitudes remain the way they are now.
A vaccine against COVID-19 would increase interest in returning among 64 percent of those who took the nationwide survey, and 73 percent in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic.
As the study’s author Mark Shugoll points out, theaters obviously have no control over when a vaccine will be developed. But the survey suggests some things theater could do to entice patrons to come back more quickly – 50 percent mentioned a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all areas before each performance; 46 percent if every other seat was left empty for social distancing; 43 percent the widespread availability of both hand sanitizers and face masks; 41 percent wanted the theater to make the wearing of face masks a requirement for attendance; and 39 percent wanted everybody’s temperature taken at the door before allowing entry.
The theatergoers’ concerns were not just about health. Forty-four percent said they were more likely to return if prices were lower.
Shugoll emphasizes that the surveys are not a prediction of future behavior, but a gauge of current attitudes. “As the pandemic progresses, views likely will change.”
The answers theatergoers give to such surveys in the future are likely to depend on the eventual answers to many crucial questions: When will the theaters reopen, and what will be the state of health when they do?
This third study by Shugoll Research was conducted using a national panel. A total of 401 surveys of residents from the 35 largest metropolitan area (exclusing Washington, DC and New York City, which surveyed separately) were completed between April 17 and 24, 2020.
A free copy of the Executive Summary or the Full Report is available from Shugoll Research.