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D.C. Theatregoers Still Hesitant to Return in 2021

Amid theatres’ fall reopenings, a new survey shows lingering reluctance to attend shows without socially distanced seating or a vaccination requirement.

ROCKVILLE, MD.: Limelight Insights by Shugoll, a national marketing research company, has announced the results of their fifth wave of online surveys conducted since the pandemic began. This wave was conducted July 13-15 and surveyed 526 Washington, D.C., area theatregoers on their intent to return to theatres. Though vaccination rates are increasing, with 94 percent of those participating in the survey being vaccinated, the study found that hesitation remains as concern about the Delta variant rises. Reporting on previous iterations of these surveys can be found here.

“Many D.C. area theatres are planning fall openings,” said project director Cara Wilken in a statement. “Unfortunately, many theatregoers will not be likely to return at that time, limiting earned income potential for the earliest shows.”

In fact, the report has seen little change since its March iteration, which reported that January 2022 was the earliest a majority of survey participants said they’d be “very willing” to return to the theatre. The most recent report shows that only 52 percent said they were very likely to attend a production in October—just a four percent increase in response to returning in October from the fourth wave of surveys released in April.

Unchanged since that previous survey are the months in which a majority of those surveyed would be very likely to attend the theatre: January (six in 10 surveyed) and March (two-thirds of those surveyed). For those eyeing a September reopening in D.C., the report notes that only 45 percent of respondents said they’d be very likely to return in September, a one percent increase from the fourth wave survey. That said, more than half of those who are frequent theatregoers, subscribers, or specifically frequent nonprofit theatre attendees are very likely to attend productions in September, with that more eager group reaching the 60 percent “very likely” to return threshold by October (frequent nonprofit theatregoers) or November (subscribers and frequent theatregoers).

When it comes to safety precautions, 77 percent of participants said they would still like to see social distancing when it comes to seating, with the percentage of people willing to attend shows in October dipping from 52 percent to 47 percent if a production didn’t have social distancing in place for seating. Significantly, 70 percent said they favored allowing only vaccinated patrons to attend performances, with 66 percent of those surveyed saying audiences should be limited to those vaccinated and those with a negative COVID test. Similarly, 63 percent of respondents would be in favor of either requiring all patrons to wear masks or only requiring unvaccinated patrons to wear masks. Patron temperature checks saw only 55 percent of people responding favorably.

While not necessarily indicative of the entirety of Broadway’s audience, the survey that only 30 percent of those surveyed who attended a Broadway show during the last three years said they’d be “very likely” to attend a Broadway production by October. It’s not until May 2022 when that number crosses the 50 percent threshold, leading Wilken, in a statement, to say, “These survey results should be seen as a caution to producers for quickly rebuilding Broadway visitor traffic.”

The full report and executive summary can be found here.

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