What keeps non-theatre goers away?

Despite a national survey which says 41% of the adult population, or nearly 700,000 Western Australians attended theatre in the past year, like most I have sat cringing for artists of great work performing in barely populated theatres.

CircuitWest’s recent research around Western Australia led to talking to people from all walks of life and asking the million-dollar question; what do you think when you hear the word theatre? (this was repeated for each major performing arts genre).

The response has been remarkable. Overall, negativity towards theatre is very low. This is interesting as ticket sales are often lower than hoped

It is important to clarify, we are not talking about musical theatre JUST theatre.

When asked about Musical theatre, groups across the state raved and it appeared at least two out of three people have been (mainly to Crown) , would pay any price and are going again as soon as they can, regardless of distance.

There were some interesting trends in what was said across WA about theatre. These are some observations on common themes.

• The majority of people outside Perth have not seen a professional play.
• Around one in three are interested in having theatre at their venue.
• Negative responses often derive from negative memories about being dragged to work like Shakespeare or Lawler as a teenager.
• Most people report they are not exposed to marketing for theatre.
• There is a surprisingly high interest in amateur work, and many will pay their $25 to see their neighbour do a spirited version of Hamlet.
• Largely, people did not know how to describe theatre, it was a complete mystery to many.

So, if we were to analyse why theatre is not playing to packed houses of adventurous types, what might be the cause?

Think about our habits as people, how many of us are risk takers? How often does someone who has never been a sport fan, suddenly go along to a visiting rugby league team?

How often do meat and veg eaters decide to move to vegan food?

How often do you want to walk up to a group of people connected by a common interest like a book club as a new person, and just try and muddle along with what is going on?

Let’s face it, most of us are pretty cosy in comfort zones. There are plenty of risk takers in the population of course, the question is how does theatre reach out to them?

The first five regions of audience development research have really revealed positive things for theatre.

What we do know is the majority of people do not run screaming from the room if you invite them to talk theatre. They do say, however, I don’t really understand what you mean by that?

For this industry, that is all opportunity.