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Why people go to the theatre: a qualitative study of audience motivation

June 21, 201221 June 2012

Performing arts attendance / Audience motivations

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This qualitative research paper investigated “the complex motivations of theatre audiences” based on “40 semi-structured in-depth interviews” with “highly theatre-literate” audience members in Britain and Australia. The study found that “the key motivating factor for respondents was the pursuit of emotional experiences and impact”. More specifically, “the vast majority of respondents talked at some length about their emotional response to theatre”, using descriptions such as “tense”, “moving”, “harrowing”, “powerful” and “hitting an emotional chord”. The author indicates that “emotion emerged as a powerful drug which keeps theatre audiences coming back for more”.

According to the research, the second most important motivating factor was escapism, with experiences such as “getting away from the everyday to experience something new”, “escaping into a place where they had nothing or no-one else to worry about” and having “detachment from real life”.

The third most important motivating factor was “edutainment”, including “being challenged artistically, emotionally, intellectually and ethically” and wanting to “broaden their world-view through theatre”. The research indicated that “true and authentic performances were essential determinants of a positive experience”.

The report provides a “needs, motivations and drivers matrix for theatre audiences”, including spiritual, sensual, emotional intellectual and social drivers. In addition, the study indicates that “the overriding message that echoed consistently through the interviews was the assertion that theatre is live, dynamic and about people”.

The author recommends that theatre organizations conduct research to segment their own audiences by motivational attributes in order to determine the “individually varying drivers” and “multiple motivations” of their audience members. This, in turn, will help ground organizations’ emotion-based marketing. Furthermore, the author argues that “theatre producers and marketers should … acknowledge the fact that audiences expect theatre to provide them with a challenging escape from their daily lives and not shy away from programming demanding work and selling it on its merits.”

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