Past Articles

What's New on the RialtoPast Columns

Just what is the Theatre Development Fund, and what is it trying to tell us about Broadway and Ourselves?

The Theatre Development Fund (TDF) is the largest not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts in the country. In addition to TDF's most visible program, its TKTS discount ticket booths in Times Square and the World Trade Center, TDF administers a range of ticket marketing programs that encourage production of new plays and musicals and enable more New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy the riches and variety of the city's theatre, dance and music. Annually, TDF programs fill more than 2.5 million theatre seats at discounted prices - seats that otherwise would go unsold.

The Theatre Development Fund is committed to providing programs that build audiences and support the performing arts in New York City. Since its inception in 1968, TDF's remarkable record encompasses more than 48 million theatre seats filled; subsidy support given to more than 600 plays including 17 Tony Award winners and 20 Pulitzer Prize honorees; and more than 600 million dollars in revenue returned to theatre, dance and music organizations. Each year, at its TKTS booths in Times Square and in the World Trade Center, and through its mailing programs, TDF sells approximately 2.5 million theatre seats at discounted prices to an audience that might not otherwise be able to afford the unique experience of live performance.

In cooperation with the League of American Theatres and Producers, TDF sponsors the professional theatre's only structured program for the training of novice producers. There is a three-day seminar each spring open to all, and a more extensive 14-week program from February to May for a smaller group selected after an application process.

A couple of weeks ago the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) released to the public a report titled The Audience for New York Theatre; A Profile of the Broadway and Off-Broadway 1997 Theatre Season. This report is available for download in its entirety at the TDF website at (Adobe Acrobat is required to view and print the report.) TDF announced the availability of the report with the following press release:




"A Profile of the Broadway and Off-Broadway 1997 Theatre Season" focuses on the attitudes of young theatregoers.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Theatre Development Fund and The League of American Theatres and Producers announce the release of a new study, "The Audience for New York Theatre: A Profile of the Broadway and Off-Broadway 1997 Theatre Season." The research was carried out by Audience Research and Analysis (ARA), George Wachtel, President, and written by Marian Lefkin. This report is the first benchmark study of the New York Theatre Audience to include Broadway, Off-Broadway, profit and not-for-profit theatre over an entire theatre season. It takes a very different approach from previous investigations of the theatre audience by relating the current findings to long-term trends, and offers new insights into the age, composition, ethnic background and origins of the audience. "We surveyed a total of 104 theatre audiences spread out over the entire 52 week period with every performance time represented," reported Mr. Wachtel.

The report shows that early exposure to the theatre through arts education programs and field trips with classes and families is most likely to create the next generation of dedicated theatregoers. New statistics show that the young ethnic audience (18-24 years of age) is growing dramatically.

In addition, the study shows that the younger theatre audience is more ethnically diverse than their elders. Asian, Hispanic and African American theatregoers account for 12.9% of the total Broadway audience and 10.9% of the total Off-Broadway audience. Strikingly, in the 18-24 year old range, the Asian, Hispanic and African American theatregoers represented 20% of the Broadway audience and 25.4% of the Off-Broadway audience.

Long-term trends show that the Broadway audience under 20 years of age has grown dramatically. An audience survey conducted in a seminal study by the Twentieth Century Fund in 1966 by William J. Baumol, Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma, found only 4.9% of all theatregoers under 20 years of age; by 1997 the level climbed to 13.9%. However, most young attendees went to musicals rather than plays. "Whereas the report demonstrates that many of the general trends are positive, not all indicators are good," says TDF Executive Director, Jack Goldstein. "We are particularly concerned that the increased attendance of young people under 18 years of age is almost exclusively due to attendance at musical theatre, where they comprise 12.8% of the total audience. In glaring contrast, this group accounts for a minuscule 1.1% of the total audience at non-musical productions. TDF believes dramatic steps must be taken to increase awareness and opportunity for young people to attend plays."

"Getting to know the theatre audience better helps the industry more effectively communicate with its patrons," said Jed Bernstein, Executive Director, The League of American Theatres and Producers. "It also allows us to see where more work needs to further develop and build our audience."

The Under 25 Audience: The study invited theatregoers under 25 years of age to express their attitudes about theatregoing. The study showed that 21.7% of the total Broadway audience and 13.3% of the total Off-Broadway audience fell into this age group. (As compared to 15.5% of the Broadway audience in the 1990-91 season. Comparative figures are not available for Off-Broadway.) Of these percentages, those under 18 years of age represented close to half the group at Broadway performances (48.4%), but fewer at Off-Broadway performances, (35.3%).

A majority of these young theatregoers indicated that their schools had programs that exposed them to the theatre. Among the Broadway theatregoers, residents of New York City and its surroundings were more likely to have had access to school programs; 65.5% in New York City and 68.2% in the NY suburbs. The same pattern appeared Off-Broadway where 63.0% in the city and 68.7% in the suburbs had theatre programs in their schools. In addition, frequent Broadway and Off-Broadway theatregoers most often stated that their parents had attended the theatre.

Attitudes of the under 25 theatregoer: Of this group of theatregoers under 25 years of age:

* Four out of five theatregoers under 25 agreed that "going to the theatre is cool."

* The majority agreed "I would spend my own money on the theatre." (69.6% of Broadway audience; 76.6% Off-Broadway audience).

* This group attended of their own volition. Only one in ten agreed with the statement: "I attend the theatre because my parents or teachers want me to."

* Two-thirds agreed that "theatre is for someone my age."

Broadway vs. Off-Broadway: Other notable statistics revealed by the study include:

* 3/4 of the Off-Broadway audience (75.3%) resided in New York City and environs as opposed to 49.2% of the Broadway audience. New York City residents accounted for nearly half of Off-Broadway theatregoers (47.8%) - more than double the proportion seen on Broadway (21.1%).

* Surveyed Off-Broadway audience members attended the theatre (combined Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway attendance) twice as much as Broadway theatregoers. Off-Broadway theatregoers averaged 10.7 shows per year (combined Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway), and surveyed Broadway audience members averaged 5.0 shows per year (combined Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway).

* Nearly 3/4 of out-of-town attendees at Broadway (72.8%) performances and 2/3 Off-Broadway (64.4%) had chosen their show before arriving in the city. Of this group of out-of-towners, 58% of the Broadway audience and 38.8% of the Off-Broadway audience purchased their tickets in advance.

* The Broadway audience is younger than the Off-Broadway audience. The average age of the Broadway audience member is 40 years while that of the Off-Broadway audience member is 45.

* The recommendation of family or friends was the number one means of hearing about a show for Broadway (38.9%) and Off-Broadway (34.1%) audiences alike.

Recent Trends: (These are only Broadway audience comparisons as Off-Broadway statistics from 1991 are unavailable):

* The percentage of international visitors attending Broadway has increased from 7.4% in 1991 vs. 12.9% in 1997.

* The audience for Broadway is now younger than the audience in 1991. In 1997, 41.8% of theatregoers were under 35, compared with only 34.7% in 1991.

* The under 18 age group has grown from 7.0% in 1991 to 10.5% in 1997.

* The student population in the audience has grown from 11.8% in 1991 to 15.9% in 1997.

The bottom line is that there is plenty of opportunity for the theatre to stimulate its audience in the present and the future. By making attendance for foreign visitors easier, it can expand audiences today, and by attracting younger attendees, it will contribute to the theatre's prospects for tomorrow.

# # #

Reading the actual 29 page report, three interesting sets of facts not cited in the press release present themselves:


* Fully 64.9% of the audience at a Broadway show report a College or Graduate Degree. A far higher proportion of audience members at Broadway plays held graduate degrees (42.0%), compared with theatregoers at Broadway musicals (25.4%). Frequent Broadway theatergoers had higher levels of education: 33.9% of those who attended shows more than twice a year held graduate degrees, compared with 23.7% attending two times or less.

* Theatregoers at Off-Broadway performances had even higher levels of education overall: 38.4% held graduate degrees, compared with 28.5% of the Broadway audience. As on Broadway, frequent theatregoers were more likely to hold graduate level degrees: 46.6% vs. 32.9% of those who went to the theatre only once or twice a year.

How Theatregoers Learn About Shows:

* A whopping 53.3% of Broadway audiences learn about a show from that show's advertising campaign. Personal recommendations by friends and family follow closely at 38.9%. Only 24.0% report learning about a show from the critic's reviews. A very small 3.4% of Broadway theatregoers report learning about a show on the Internet.

* 35.9% of Off-Broadway audiences learn about a show from that show's advertising campaign. Personal recommendations are an almost identical 34.1%. Only 18.2% report learning about an Off-Broadway show from the critic's reviews, and an even smaller 0.8% report learning about an Off-Broadway show on the Internet.

Just How Influential Are The Critics?

* For Broadway shows, frequent theatregoers were twice as likely to follow reviews in comparison to infrequent attendees. (33.0% vs. 19.5%).

* Attendees at Broadway musicals mentioned other advertising sources with greater frequency. The audience at Broadway plays, by contrast, paid far more attention to reviews. (22.7% for musicals vs. 34.0% for plays).

* Reviews were most often cited by NYC residents as a source of hearing about a Broadway show (32.2%).

* The influence of reviews was strongly linked to age. Reviews played an increasingly larger role in calling attention to a Broadway show as the age category of the theatregoer increased. At the same time, attention to word-of-mouth recommendations diminished quite a bit in relation to age.

Wanna' talk to others about this column or anything else theatre related? Check out All That Chat

Past Rialto Columns

Search What's New on the Rialto

Privacy Policy