Playbill Poll: Why B'way's Under-18 Audience Has Doubled

News   Playbill Poll: Why B'way's Under-18 Audience Has Doubled A recent study by the League of American Theater Owners and Producers found that the under-18 audience for Broadway shows had doubled during the 1990s. Playbill On-Line asked: How do you account for this fact? Is it the kind of shows begin presented, the kind of marketing and audience development, a generalized turn-off to other kinds of entertainment, simple demographic trends -- or soming else?

A recent study by the League of American Theater Owners and Producers found that the under-18 audience for Broadway shows had doubled during the 1990s. Playbill On-Line asked: How do you account for this fact? Is it the kind of shows begin presented, the kind of marketing and audience development, a generalized turn-off to other kinds of entertainment, simple demographic trends -- or soming else?

Also, do you think the same trend applies to theatres beyond Broadway?

Read Poll Details.

Playbill thanks those who took the time to write. Here are the results:

From Jeff Duncan, Theatre Major, California State University, Chico:
I believe that one of the main causes for this resurgence of younger theatre audiences is due to shows such as 'Rent' and 'Beauty and the Beast.' These shows (and others like them) appeal to this younger audience--if they like what they see, it encourages them to come back as a repeat audience member or venture out to see new shows that aren't necessarily geared toward a younger audience.
Another reason, in my opinion, is because of the success of 'The Rosie O'Donnell Show' (which I know sounds rather stupid). Rosie O'Donnell's influence on the popularity of current Broadway shows is more than obvious. Booking performances from "The Lion King" to "Ragtime" have undoubtedly influenced her large children's viewing audience, as well as her adult viewing audience. We have seen how Rosie's popularity sparks increased sales in products that she mentions on her show, and I'm sure that the shows that she repeatedly supports have benefitted in the same way.


From Crissy Terawaki, Northwestern University, School of Speech, Comm. Sciences & Disorders 2000 (http://iav.com/~terawaki/):
I know that as a teen, _I_ was drawn to musical theater because of the passion that today's performers bring to their work. I'm not dismissing the talent of, say, John Raitt or any of his colleagues from his time, but I think today's actors and actresses tend to show a lot more emotion (i.e., through parlando and other techniques) in their performances to the extent that, when you listen to a cast album, you can really _feel_ what a character is going through, as opposed to just hearing an equally talented voice just hit the notes as they were written.
Secondly, while many "traditional" theater fans I know may object to having "Rent" thrown into a category with the rest of the shows on Broadway, we can't ignore the fact that the musical genre presented in that musical has attracted a great many to the theater for the first time. And once they realize that Broadway isn't just this whole uppity, night-at-the-opera fling, as the stereotype would have it, they often end up opening their eyes to other shows and become patrons of those, as well.


From MEACHES99:
I am under 18 and i feel that i can really relate to this article. my friends and i for the holidays (Christmas and Hannukah) instead of buying each other gifts (which can really add up) decided to go to the city for the day and see a show altogether instead. our top choices were either "Rent" or "Sound of Music" because most of the other musicals some of us have seen already. i feel that we were attracted to these musicals because of the stories, for example, in "Rent" it's a very modern show with real life issues not a fairy tale. we like to see musicals we can relate too. we also were attracted to "The Sound of Music" because first, we know one of the cast members and secondly, the musical has many children in the cast. i feel that a lot of teens these days enjoy watching musicals with people their own age staring in it. for instance, i saw "Big" when it was on Broadway a couple years ago. i absolutely loved it, partially because i found that the children in the cast were a lot of fun to watch and added an extra flicker of excitement to the musical. when my friends and i were talking about what musical to see i found that they especially wanted a musical that they could relate to such as "Rent" or a musical starring children, such as "The Sound of Music."


From Elizabeth Lee:
As a devoted seventeen-year-old Broadway fan, I must admit I am nearly just as baffled as adults on the incredible increase of teens seeing Broadway shows. In my case, I was raised on the classics such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, and grew up watching such fare as the musical "Mary Poppins", where it seemed perfectly natural to burst into song. Even if these shows no longer appeal to today's teenager, others with more popular music styles do. Shows such as "Rent" appeal to the twenty something and under crowd, with its rebellious, rock style, and shows such as "Jekyll & Hyde" have pop tunes which teens recognize from the Top 40.
Theatre today is also more daring than in years past, dealing with controversial or current issues that affect young and old alike. And to escape into the magical world of theatre, more practically, offers a much more pleasant alternative to a teenager's usual day of lectures and homework.


From Amanda Hecko:
Hi! I am a 16 year old girl from Queens NY. I have been attending Broadway shows frequently for about a year an a half. I have many reasons for this. One major reason is that there is no new [pop] music that is very appealing to me. Also, movie plots are so bad that I rarely go to the movies anymore. The price of balcony tickets to Broadway shows is not much higher than movie tickets. I also have a lot of admiration for the performers. Many of my friend have the same feelings. I also think that it is a lot easier to express your individuality than it was before. That factor may have made it easier for teens to "admit" to one another that they like arts, such as Broadway displays.
I do no think that to a great extent this increase applies to theater beyond Broadway. I attend LaGuardia H.S. Music and Art & Performing Arts. Teens in my school are somewhat enthusiastic about concert, operas, and ballets, But no where near as enthusiastic as they are about Broadway. Teens who do not go to my school do no like concerts, operas, and ballets at all, unless they have a special interest. However, they do like Broadway very much.


From Adair:
I'm fifteen years old and I saw my first Broadway show when I was twelve. Now I've seen thirty-three. I think that Broadway shows appeal to people of all ages and maybe even more so to young people. I think with all the lavish sets and special effects the younger you are the more magical it is. As for theatre other than Broadway, I can only speak for myself but I try and see as many off Broadway and local shows as I can. It's always so much better to see live actors than just seeing them on a movie screen.


From: Patrick Elkins:
I am a 20-year old theatregoer, so I can relate to 16 to 18 year olds and I'm not surprised at the dramatic rise. I believe this has to do with the age group we are in. It has been a long time since there was major musical movie hit, but the last ones were in our childhood. I remember watching Hair, Fiddler on the Roof, Little Shop of Horrors and A Chorus Line while growing up. It was a major part of my childhood. Not to mention the expansion of the touring company, to allow almost anyone a chance to see a Broadway quality show near home. Then there's the explosion of the pop musical. The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables opened when I was ten. So there wasn't a major time in my life that I don't remember knowing of Broadway. I'm not a huge fan of either of these shows, but they are bringing in the youthful audiences. Then these audiences are staying for other shows, expanding their horizons. I fully expect a new Golden Age of Broadway when this crowd reaches adulthood. "I reject the world's complacency!"


From greg (waygreg@aol.com):
As a 16 year old fan of Broadway, I'm all for sharing my opinions on why Broadway's under-18 audience has doubled in the 1990's.
And these are in order of importance (1 being the most important)
1) The types of Broadway shows being produced are aimed towards children more than ever before. Disney by itself is a big reason for the population increase, with Beauty & The Beast and The Lion King. Also, there are few children in the Northeast that haven't seen Cats at least once, because the show can accommodate children with its simplistic "character introducing" plot. Also, shows like Les Miserables and Phantom are becoming so mainstream and mega-popular that audiences of all ages are making the effort to see these shows. In addition, more history-oriented shows like The Diary of Anne Frank and even Showboat are attracting busloads of kids on field trips from their history or language classes. And of course, Rent is bringing in incredible amounts of teenagers, as it should. And this revival of The Sound Of Music (which replaced Annie in the same theater) will certainly make the numbers grow even more. The reason why children's shows are succeeding? Simple: Parents go to more adult-oriented shows by themselves. When the kids go, they drag their parents, so for every kid at the theater, there is almost a parent or two as well.
2) Rose O'Donnell's crusade for Broadway is also attracting children. Her general love for Broadway and children is certainly contributing to the population increase.
3) As the economy gets back into swing, people have more money to spend . . . and they will spend it. This has been proven throughout history.


From Harry Young:
Hi. My name is Harry Young. I'm under 18 and love the theatre. I try to go whenever possible. I saw my first Broadway show in 1993. I was ten. I hadn't really been exposed to the theatre before that, but it was magical for me. I loved everything about it and still do. Now, as for today, new theatergoers are drawn in by RENT or NOISE/FUNK, a new show that they hear is cool. Then it catches and they want to see more. The theater is a beautiful art form. I wouldn't give it up for the world.


From Denise DiPalma:
As for myself, all the wonderful shows I have been able to expose my children to has been due to reduced prices. Prices are reduced through "Rush" ticket sales, TKTS, Student discounts and "Kids On Broadway." Prior to these discounts, it was financially impossible to take my three children with me to the Theatre. Now, I not only take them, but their friends as well! Thank you to all those who have made these discounts available!


From Laura Bridge (Age 17):
It was only a couple of days ago that a friend of mine was walking on 41st Street in New York City right after the hit musical "RENT" had ended their matinee show. She noticed the tremendous sound of teenagers screaming as a tall blond man emerged from the theater and ran across the street to where she was walking. The young man turned to her quite unexpectedly and said; "it's crazy here, isn't it?," nudging to the crowd of young fans that stood in front of the theater. She sharply said in reply; "I guess you haven't met the New York crowds."
Crazy might be the only way to describe the sudden emphasis on youth and theater that has occurred in the last couple of years. Kids have conquered Broadway, and ruling with a vengeance. It was not so long ago that it was rare to see parents and their charges leisurely strolling down 42nd Street, or hordes of young teenagers getting up at the crack of dawn to claim their theater tickets. The youth of America has become the center of marketing for many current shows such as "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk", "RENT", "Beauty and the Beast", and "The Lion King", which boast of entertainment for not only the adults, but for their children. Even shows that are not particularly geared toward the younger generation are getting into the act. The new Broadway musical "Ragtime" has aligned with Burger King, Dr. Pepper, and WABC-TV, to sponsor an essay contest for children in celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday. Coincidentally, the grand prize consists of a savings bond, and four orchestra tickets to "Ragtime."
But what has caused this frenzy of youth to become so rampant in Times Square? I'm sure somewhere deep down inside, the reason is indirectly because of the love of theater, and the need to spread it to everyone, but the truth of the matter is that it is because it is highly profitable in many respects. Take the musical "RENT" for example. When the producers started a policy that allowed students to see the show in the first two rows for twenty dollars based on a first come- first serve basis, lines would form the night before. And this was all to pay to see a show. Soon other productions began similar policies, and the legacy of "rush tickets" began. "Rush tickets" allow for fanatics of a show to come numerous amounts of times. Labels such as "RENTheads" and "Jekkies" formed as a result, and there is even slight competition within the groups to see it often in order to maintain up-to date.
If the presence of the younger generation on Broadway is not apparent to you, go see a show during the months of January and February, when the highly successful "Kids' Night on Broadway" takes place. Offering a free ticket to any child under 18 who is accompanied by an adult with a full priced ticket, "Kids' Night" has become a family tradition in some cases. Kids are treated to special "Kids' Night" playbills and given assorted paraphernalia depending on the show. Children seeing the production of "RENT" are treated to their very own fake "RENT" tattoo, and youngsters seeing the vibrant dance hit; "Noise/Funk," leave with various products that shout "Noise/Funk" across them with shocking colors. Seats to the more popular shows sell out within days of their first availability. Surprisingly enough, the kiddie-powered Disney theater productions of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" are missing on the line-up of shows that offer the promotion, most likely do to the fact that Disney is not one to give discounts under any circumstances.
The Broadway merchandising targeted at young children has become a business in itself. The appearance of Disney on 42nd Street is an obvious example. When patrons go to see the new musical, "The Lion King," at the New Amsterdam Theater, they have the option of shopping for "Lion King" paraphernalia in the adjoining part of the neighboring Disney store. On one occasion, I witnessed a woman spend close to three hundred dollars on t-shirts and toys for her children, during intermission alone. Keychains, baseball hats, and other things of the sort are now an integral part of the whole production. I think that if Michael Eisner saw a child pulling their mother into the Disney Store, wailing about why they should buy this toy, he might nod on in agreement. Although the show itself does not contain cute little furry animals, the Disney Store stocks them by the dozens because the impulses of small children lead them to believe that there is a market for them, and they are right.
This is not to say that all motives of attracting kids to Broadway are done strictly for the purpose of making money. Many of the new shows focused to the younger generations are some of the most highly conceptualized, educational, and innovative productions on the Great White Way and Off- Broadway. The raw edginess of shows such as "RENT " and "The Last Session" fight against the conventions of previous productions, and present real problems such as AIDS in a way that doesn't feel too "preachy." The stylized "The Lion King", and the energetic "Noise/Funk," base their creative strengths on exhibiting the beauty of African culture, and of African-American culture, respectively. The recent revival of "The Diary of Anne Frank," and the new production of "Ragtime" teach their stories of modern day history in a manner that might seem more entertaining than it would in a classroom.
It seems to be the age of children on Broadway. Hopefully, it will not come to past as soon as it came, but instead linger on to be an integral part of theater. Those of us who are products of this era will hopefully go on to either become an active part in, or supporter of the magic that theater brings to the children of the world. So the next time you are stuck sitting next to a screaming child in a theater, just think; this is the future of Broadway.


From Chell (Leffel4@aol.com):
As a 16 year old who would kill to get tickets to see a show on Broadway. I've been dancing all my life and to dance ONCE on Broadway would be a dream come true for me. I think it's become more popular because music has become a big part of people's lives since the 80's. Not like it wasn't before, but I think that it has a bigger impact on people now. Look how much clothing style has changed in the last 10 years. A big part of that is due to music. Also, I know that my school, Abington High School -- Abington, PA, greatly encourages the arts. The orchestra (which I'm also a part of), band and choral groups took a field trip to go see SHOW BOAT this past period. In my family going to see musicals and being in them has been a tradition, I hope this pole is a sign that this is beginning with other families too. Please feel free to mail me back.


From Tracy:
There are several reasons attributing to why the under-18 audience theatregoers have increased their numbers. At 17, I am a lover of theatre and find discount tickets to be the greatest factor in determining what shows I see and how often. Most students are on a limited budget, so rush tickets and student discounts help tremendously!! I believe there has also been an effort by Broadway to bring these shows to high school students. A few years back, I was a volunteer for Variety, who brought the theatre and the arts to teens who might normally not receive the chance to experience it. Shows such as Rent and Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk also show teens who might not be interested in Broadway originally, that there is something out there to suit all interests. Personally, I am a huge Phantom of the Opera and Ragtime fan though these may not be the most popular shows amongst teens. I am excited by all the variety that exists in Broadway shows now, and if exciting new projects with decently priced tickets come out of the woodwork, I believe the teens will continue to come.


From MARC (SixthXibit@aol.com):
hi, i am a 17 year old male. Theatre has always been my life, and i feel that more of my non- theatre friends are liking Broadway. this has so much to do with RENT. my friends who don't know anything about theatre are singing Rent when they walk down the halls of my school. Now there into a lot of things- LION KING, RAGTIME, etc... I even tried to get some of my friends In to SIDE SHOW (the best show i have ever seen) , they are more opened minded and i love it.


From Tom:
I am under 18 and I can give my first-hand opinion as to why I think the under-18 audience is up so much. To me, it's the type of shows being offered and the fact that kids, teens, and their parents have more money than ever nowadays. The shows now on Broadway are very family-oriented (Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) or appeal to teens (Rent, Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, etc). Thanks to the huge audience of the movie "Titanic", and the newfound interest in the ship itself, I'm sure people (especially teenagers) will be drawn to Broadway's Titanic. Just last month my high school (just north of New York City) had a trip to that very show. I must say that I enjoyed it very much. So, current trends also contribute to this increase. Also, since people have more money than ever, many decide to spend it on tickets to a Broadway show. Therefore, this also increases the under-18 audience. Me and some friends are going to see the Lion King next September, spending $60 each for balcony tickets! There are a number of reasons why this upswing is occurring, but these are all I could think of.


From Meghan O'Donnell (KHJG97C@Prodigy.com):
Hi my name is Meghan O'Donnell, I am 16 years old. I would have to give almost all of the credit to Rosie O'Donnell. Does that sound odd. I would say it is because she has them on her show and you see how good they are and then in turn I buy the show's cd, and then I just have to see the show. I went to my first B-way show last June and since then I have gone back 4 times, I have been bringing my friends along every time and my younger brother and sisters all of them have just loved the live theatre experience and they all can't wait to go back. My little brother just turned 9 and he loves it too. What prevented us from coming in the first place was really that we had no idea how wonderful it is,since all of us are under 18 most of the time our parents will pay for our tickets so of course we want to go. There are also so many wonderful shows out there. Hope I was able to help.


From David Stern:
why has under 18 increased?
1. Rent
2. Noise/Funk
3. Kids Nights on Broadway added huge numbers to shows skewing over-all count
Remove the above and statistically you would be back to normal... thankfully there is the above to help change the under 18 habits.


From Steve M.:
I believe the increase in teens to see shows in the 1990's is mostly due to shows that they can relate to and seem real to them. Also, the type of music. Take "Rent" for example, most of the music is part of today's radio style. It's almost like a rock concert, except there's a great story behind the music. The kids get their first chance in life to really feel for people who face similar problems in their adolescence. Kids need something to attach to. They can hang out with their friends and listen to the CD and not feel like the music is "Show-Muzak". Other notable shows are "Tommy", "Stomp", "Bring in da Noise".


From Andrew Jones (15):
I'm an under 18 year old who loves Broadway. I think many younger kids are liking Broadway for the great "new" shows that are out there. Shows like RENT are attracting many younger kids, and other shows like Jekyll and Hyde are drawing more younger crowds. Other older classic shows like Les Miserables and Miss Saigon are still drawing large audiences simply because they are amazing shows. The quality of Broadway hasn't changed, it is still unbelievable. But more and more upbeat shows are coming out and with the new addition of Ragtime and the Scarlet Pimpernel I expect even more younger people going to Broadway shows! Thank you!


From Cronus:
I as a 15 year old say that minors are more interested in theatre. I live in Ontario and spend al lot of time in Michigan and have noticed a lot of teens going to the theatre. In stratford, many youth groups attend SHakespeare plays, and in Detroit Musicals like Cats and Chicago were very popular. I personally think it is of better publicity on TV. Shows like The Rosie O'Donnell Show and Regis and Kathie Lee have made people more curious of Broadway shows and the theatre in general.


From Michael Falkner (starcade@hotmail.com): 1> The role of Disney. You can't tell me before "Beauty and the Beast" that there were that many shows that were that geared to a younger audience. That and "The Lion King" have given Broadway a way to get to the kids.
I was told, for example, that Deborah Gibson appeared today [Monday, March 16] at a Long Island Target store grand opening. Normally, when these autograph sessions are announced to her "fans", the majority of people there are her followers. But one person reports that the majority of the people there to see Deborah were young girls and their mothers, rather than the usual autograph-signing crowd to see Deb.
Hence, I do think Disney has opened up Broadway some to the younger set.
2> For teens and up, star power. Again, Deborah Gibson is a good example. Sheena Easton, Dominique Dawes, Lucy Lawless, and on and on and on. No longer are musicals and the like drawing purely from their own, and that irks some purists. But it is drawing people to the theatre...


From Jeanne:
I think possibly they are the children of the baby boomer generation, I'm considered a baby boomer and I love the theater, so when I see a show that I like and I think my daughters would enjoy, I offer to buy the tickets and they usually accept the offer. My children are over 18 but I had them very young, many in my age group have under 18 children. I didn't go to my first broadway show until after I was married and I couldn't believe what I missed all those years and I made sure my kids had everything I didn't. I think that way of thinking is typical of my generation and I think we are a little looser with the money.


From D'Angelo:
I am a 16 year old teen from Connecticut, I attend The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry Ny- in Westchester (which isn't too far from NYC). I am very much so into the performing arts industry, being an actor myself. But Broadway is taking and making a new outlook to teenagers and children... in the past couple of years they have given us a new edge on life. Broadway wasn't always so glitzy and upbeat, but there was always a time when there were dull musical. That's the difference you have all these new musicals out that can "somehow" identify with us. For example, RENT- and let me tell you, the show is fantastic. This show can be liked from a 12 year old to a 70 year old. But the fact is, we want to see what mommy and daddy are up to- and when you take us, we naturally become addicted. Please, tell me why one of my best friends, who is totally NOT at all into theater- has a new sensation for RENT. Better yet, tell me why I can walk down the hall, start humming La Vie Boheme, from RENT and by the time I get to the end of the hall- there is a full chorus of 15 teens (guys to) breaking into a full-scale song and dance. I mentioned the part about guys is because, teenage guys do and are starting more- to like musical theater. Maybe not the Aspects of Love or 42nd Street, but Smokey Joe's and The Lion King. Yes, I think it's the shows being presented- but also the WAY they are being presented. Their publicity as such... Broadway has everywhere to reach people- including teenager, they have reached our favorite: TV station, radio station, computer, movies-EVERYTHING! It's about time that we started taking our stand on the Broadway stage. It's like Dorito's- "you'll make more" and we will come and see them, or Apple Jacks- "we SEE what we like". Now all these Broadway producers and directors have to do is: have a show for us w/us in it!!! We are here- waiting for our chance, and yes we have what it takes- the whole triple threat thing! Bring back The Me Nobody Knows or something, jeez...


From Justin Dunleavy:
I am a 16 year old fan of Broadway! I live in West Virginia and I try to get to New York to see a play at least three times a year. The magic of the Broadway musical is incredible. I know for a fact that most of my friends, even the less theatrical ones, are very interested in seeing Titanic, Chicago, Rent, and even Les Miserables, among others. I really do think the broadcasting of the Tony's last year inflated the Broadway interest. This glamorous, exciting show really appealed to young people and got the interest for seeing a Broadway show heightened.
But now that you have captured the teen-age crowd I wish you could do something about getting the college student crowd. We teenagers still, how should we say, are more accessible to our parents wallets, while college students are very less accessible and the $75 dollar price in none to cheap and most college student can't afford that.
I hope my little theory has helped you.


From Brookcee1:
I am 16 years old and get to the theatre at least once a month. WHat draws my peers and I to come see these Broadway shows? I want to get onto stage, and just the thought of performing and seeing people that are so talented doing what you dream to is enough to draw me there. Also, I'm a dancer and currently doing productions ant my school and the music and performing, again, it just sucks you in until you're begging your parents to let you go to the city to see a show.
Also, Broadway opened up new doors with RENT, Noise/Funk, Chicago, The Life, and it's many others. High school students and teens in a way relate to it, and also love to hear about it. I must give my thanks to the stage for making something that teenagers actually enjoy!


From Bound4NYC:
I was SO thrilled to hear the news about the attendance of under 18-year-olds! I myself am 19 years old and have enjoyed the theatre for almost 10 years now. I hope that getting kids interested in the arts at an early age will help save our art and music programs at schools and develop into a life long love of the theatre, because theatre is important. It enlightens, it develops thinking, and interpretive skills, and it provides us with some of the best music I know! smile


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