According to a new study on arts attendance, the interest of young adults aged 18-24 in seven arts fields, including theatre, increased markedly in 1997. This was particularly true in opera, where 14 percent of all attendees in 1997 were in their late teens and early twenties, as opposed to 10.7 percent in 1992 -- the last year such a survey was conducted.
Theatre, also, saw more youthful audiences. Theatregoers aged 18-24 attending musicals rose from 11.6 percent in 1992 to 12.8 percent in 1997, while attendance of plays grew from 12.7 to 15.5 percent.
The study, called the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), was conducted by Westat Corporation for the National Endowment for the Arts' research division. Westat talked to 12,349 people over a five-month period in 1997.
Fully 24.5 percent of U.S adults attend the musical theatre, said the study, making musicals the fifth most popular entertainment in the nation, after reading literature (63.1 percent), arts and crafts fairs (47.5 percent) historic parks (46.9 percent) and art museums (34.9 percent). Plays were right behind musicals at 15.8 percent, just inching out classical music (15.6 percent) for sixth place.
After 18-24-year-olds, theatre remained most popular with Baby Boomer audiences. A total of 19.8 percent of 45-54 year-olds attended a play in 1997, while 29.2 percent took in a musical. In the age category of 35-44, the figures were 14.7 percent for plays and 25.8 percent for musicals. The median age of musical attendees rose from 43 to 44, while the median age for play fans held steady at 44.
Women are still more likely to attend the theatre than men, outnumbering males 56.4 percent to 43.6 percent at musicals and 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent at plays. However, the number of men theatregoers did increase since 1992. At musicals, male numbers jumped from 41.5 to 43.6 percent. The increase at plays was slighter, from 43.6 percent to 44.6 percent.
Not surprisingly, given the rising cost of theatre tickets, people with a higher income level went to the theatre more frequently. Theatre attendance also went hand in hand with higher levels of education.
The survey also showed that theatre remained a largely white pastime. A whopping 80.3 percent of audiences at musicals and 78.6 percent at plays are white. African-Americans are the minority group most likely to go to the theatre, preferring plays (11.8 percent) to musicals (10.3) percent.
--By Robert Simonson