Theatre lovers in the Washington, D.C. area receive top billing in the "League of Washington Theatres Audience Survey: 2000 and Beyond." Described by the League as "the largest audience survey ever undertaken outside of New York," the $40,000, recently-released study was conducted by Shugoll Research, Bethesda, MD (who donated their services) and co-funded by the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation.
Previously, many of Washington's larger theatres had conducted market research, while the smaller ones relied on observation and anecdotal evidence to determine their audiences. This first comprehensive market study of the entire theatre-going population is intended to assist area theaters in better attracting and serving current and potential audiences.
Eligible to participate in the survey were all theatres in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia mounting productions in 1999-2000. Twenty-nine out of a possible 35 joined in.
Findings from the 6,965 completed questionnaires include:
-- Washington theatre audiences are not demographically representative of the metropolitan area's population. They tend to be older (mean age of 44.8 years); wealthier (average income of $97,800), and better educated (44 percent have graduate degrees). They include more women (61 percent), Caucasians (83 percent), and Washington, D.C., residents (25 percent out of 12 percent area population). -- Given Washington's status as a tourist town, it is interesting to note that 74 percent of theatregoers are full-time residents of the area, while 14 percent are visiting for vacation or pleasure and 3 percent on business. Out-of-towners are about twice as likely to attend presenting theatres (22 percent) and larger venues (18 percent), rather than producing theatres (12 percent) and smaller venues (7 percent).
-- While 89 percent of theatregoers have Internet access either at home or work, only 5 percent learned of the performance they attended through the Internet. The main sources of theatre information include the Washington Post (30 percent), word of mouth from friends and acquaintances (24 percent), and the theaters themselves (27 percent through subscriptions and 11 percent through brochures and mailings to non-subscribers).
-- Patrons indicated they would attend more frequently if tickets cost less (53 percent), they had more time (34 percent), or the shows were more to their liking (31 percent), although it would also be encouraging to have easier parking (21 percent). -- Similarly, ticket price was a discouraging factor for 31 percent of adult patrons in bringing their children to the theatre. However, 71 percent persevered, with 36 percent of adults with children at home under 18 escorting them to three or more performances a year. Eighteen percent of audiences are students from grade school through college, and 58 percent of parents report that the children attended the theatre with a school group in the last year.
The League of Washington Theatres is an association of non-profit professional theatres in the greater Washington area, established in 1982 to create public awareness, appreciation and support for local theatre. The Year 2000 survey will serve as a baseline, with future studies planned for two-year intervals. In addition to receiving a composite picture of the total theatre-going community, each participating theatre will receive a customized report, including its own data.
The survey was patterned after "The Audience for New York Theatre: A Profile for the Broadway and Off-Broadway 1997 Theatre Season," conducted by Audience Research and Analysis for the Theatre Development Fund in 1998.
To view the "Executive Summary" and "Detailed Findings," check out the League's website at www.lowt.org.
-- by Barbara Gross