A new survey from Shugoll Research shows that area theatergoers are even more reluctant to return to theater in the face of the coronavirus than they were when the survey was conducted last April. The new survey, which Shugoll conducted between June 25 and 30, shows that audiences will come back later than previously thought – perhaps as late as next June, in smaller numbers, and that many audience members will not come back to theater until a vaccine is available.
The survey shows similar results among audience members who are sports fans and who will not return to the games without a vaccine. However, outdoor venues – both for theater and for sports – may prove more attractive to audiences than indoor spaces.
The June 2020 survey also shows that two-thirds of the surveyed audience watched online theater presentations; 44% watched at least once a month (the mean number of theatrical presentations which the surveyed population attended last year was just under five). However, only a quarter of those watching paid for the privilege.
Finally, a substantial portion of the surveyed population – nearly two in five – agreed that there was systemic racism in area theater and an overwhelming majority expressed a desire to see more diversity in all aspects of their enterprises. About 70% of respondents said that theaters should address issues which have come out of the Black Lives Matter movement and should take specific steps to advance racial justice.
The survey examined 743 people in Shugoll’s proprietary database, all of whom are at least 21 years of age and had seen at least two professional shows in the previous calendar year, including at least one in a local non-profit theater, such as Arena Stage or Shakespeare Theatre. The population’s demographic mirrors that of Washington-area theatergoers generally: 71% female, with a mean age of fifty-one and a half and a mean income of $123,120. Two-thirds are white; 82% are college graduates, with 51% having done post-graduate work. All had also responded to Shugoll’s April survey.
How have opinions changed? Comparing Shugoll Research’s June and April surveys.
The new survey shows that only 25% would be willing to go back to theater within a month if a theater was open and offering something compelling. In April, that figure was 51%. On the other hand, 18% say they will wait a year or longer. Three months ago, that figure was only 4%. Forty percent said that they strongly agreed with the statement that they would not return to theater until a vaccine for Covid-19 had been found; only 17% strongly disagreed.
Looked at another way, only 9% say they are “very likely” to return to theater this July or August, as opposed to 74% who say that they are “very unlikely” to return during those months. The percentage who say they are very likely to attend does not begin to exceed those who are very unlikely until March-April 2021, and the earliest date upon which a majority view themselves as very likely to return to theater is May or June of 2021.
Is the size of venue a factor?
Substantially more people are very unlikely to return to theater in the next few months than very likely regardless of the size of the venue, although more people are very likely to return to theater if the production is held out of doors. People are substantially less likely to return to theater soon than they were in the April survey. The June survey found similar results when it asked about the likelihood that respondents would return to sporting events in person, where the number of people likely to return lagged similarly behind the April results.
Has the group lost interest in theater?
Only 34% percent said that they anticipated seeing about the same amount of theater after the pandemic as they did before, as opposed to 60% in April. In April, only 27% thought they would be seeing less; now 59% do. On the other hand, 40% strongly disagreed with the statement that “I have found that I can live without theater” (13% strongly agreed). Seventy-seven percent said that they would be willing to wear a mask in the theater; 5% said that they would not.
Are they watching online content?
Bereft of opportunities to make live presentations, many theaters have turned to online shows. Shugoll’s survey shows that 66% of respondents have watched theater online at least once (2% weren’t sure), and that 11% watch it at least a few times a week. However, only 24% of those who watch online theater pay for it (there are many free offerings), and only 25% of all theatergoers say that it is very likely that they will pay for online theater in the future (22% saying that it is very unlikely).
Support for Black Lives Matter inspired change
The survey’s questions about racism in DC theater are new to this iteration of the survey, and show a substantial perception that area theaters have not done enough to meet the needs of artists and audiences of color. Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed agreed strongly that there is systemic racism in DC-area theaters; 14% disagreed strongly and a substantial portion – 19% — simply didn’t know. Excluding the population that didn’t know, 46% agreed strongly that systemic racism exists here, and 17% disagreed strongly.
Substantial majorities strongly agreed with the statements “I support the idea that area theaters must respond to the concerns expressed by black and brown artists that have come out of the Black Lives Matter movement” (70%); “I support the idea that area theaters must take Specific steps to fight racism through actionable change in their industry and beyond” (70%); and “It is important to me that area theaters more greatly reflect racial diversity in all ways than they do now” (64%). Smaller percentages said that if theaters addressed these problems they would be more likely to attend (44%) or donate (42%).
The survey found agreement with these positions across all demographic groups, although the agreement was more pronounced among people of color and theatergoers under forty-five.
Shugoll research is headed up by Dr. Mark Shugoll, a political scientist and policy analyst who serves on the Board of Directors of Arena Stage (he is a past Chair) and has recently served a term on the Board of theatreWashington.
A free copy of the Full Report is available from Shugoll Research.
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