WASHINGTON, D.C.: TheatreWashington and Limelight Insights by Shugoll have released the findings of a recent online survey aimed at assessing D.C.-area theatregoers’ opinions and attitudes toward COVID-19 safety policies. The trend among the 2,755 responses from survey participants, representing theatregoers both pre-pandemic and since theatres began to reopen in the fall of 2021, is clear: Theatre attendance is down overall, and it is driven by continued concerns about COVID-19.
Respondents consisted of subscribers and single ticket buyers at 10 D.C.-area theatres who previously attended the theatre at least twice a year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The average number of shows attended dropped from 7.38 pre-COVID to 4.80 after reopening. While 58 percent of respondents previously attended the theatre six or more times, only 31 percent did so after reopening. Almost half (46 percent) of respondents have attended the theatre just three times or less since reopening. Among this sample of multi-time theatre attenders prior to the pandemic, theatres saw an estimated 25 percent decline in subscribers after reopening (though subscribers tend to be more likely to respond to this type of survey than non-subscribers).
In terms of age group, theatres saw the largest decline in attendance of older audience members, specifically patrons 65 years old and up. Prior to the pandemic, these patrons visited theatres significantly more often than younger attendees, but have since had the lowest attendance of any age group.
The survey found that the main reason why some patrons had not returned to theatres since reopening was their concern over becoming ill from COVID exposure. A full 68 percent of patrons stated that they consider the possibility of contracting COVID-19 to be a very important reason for not attending theatres; 17 percent of respondents said they have not attended because they do not want to wear masks at the theatre, 14 percent stated that programming has not interested them, and 11 percent said they do not want to have to show proof of vaccination. Other reasons for not attending included those who cited the need for advance planning for a trip to the theatre (8 percent), those who reported that they have found other types of entertainment during the pandemic that they enjoy (7 percent), those who stated that they do not miss attending the theatre (5 percent), those who stated they cannot afford to go to the theatre (3 percent), and those who reportedly realized how much money they save when they do not buy theatre tickets (2 percent.)
Masking rules were another determining factor for attendance: 48 percent of audience members had a preference for mandatory mask-wearing everywhere in theatre venues, while 31 percent preferred masks to be optional everywhere, and 17 percent stated that they would like masks to be required inside the performance spaces but not in the lobby or other areas of the theatre. Among current attendees (those who have been to the theatre since fall of 2021), 12 percent would attend more often if mask requirements ended, while 41 percent said they would attend at least somewhat less often; 43 percent said that they would attend as frequently as they currently do, and 7 percent would stop attending the theatre entirely if masks were not required. Those who have not yet attended since reopening tended to be the most cautious about masks given the ongoing presence of COVID-19.
“We’ve been tracking the attitudes and opinions of D.C.-area theatregoers through research and surveys since early in the pandemic, and this survey represents another data set,” said Mark Shugoll, senior consultant of Limelight Insights by Shugoll, in a statement. “At this particular point in time, it’s clear to me that as theatregoers return, they are still cautious about COVID-19 safety and would prefer mandatory mask-wearing when inside.” A prior survey from March found that respondents had similar concerns about COVID-19 safety in D.C.-area theatres.
“The results of this survey have been shared with our partner organizations as they continue to
make challenging decisions about COVID-19 safety policies in their theatres,” said Amy Austin,
president & CEO of TheatreWashington, in a statement. “It’s no secret that D.C.-area theatres have struggled to rebound since reopening their doors in fall 2021, and face some very difficult decision-making ahead. I feel confident that theatre leadership has the best interest of their audiences, artists,
staff, and volunteers at the core of their policy decisions, and TheatreWashington will continue to support them through this period. In keeping with guidance from the CDC, TheatreWashington highly encourages the use of masks inside indoor theatre spaces.”
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