Survey suggests fewer theater ticket holders post pandemic

The Warner Theatre adapts to pandemic closures by hosting a drive-in musical.

The Warner Theatre adapts to pandemic closures by hosting a drive-in musical.

Metro Creative Connection

It is important for area theaters to know how many theatergoers will return once theaters reopen their doors. Theaters spend a great deal of money for each production. Not only do they have to pay for the rights of the shows, but for the many designers including lighting, sound, set, costume and tech designers and the directors, stage managers and actors. This doesn’t even include the box office, administration and other house costs. They need to anticipate ticket receipts. How likely are audiences going to return when theaters open their doors again?

A Shugoll Research Survey, based in Maryland, concluded that around 49 percent of theatergoers suggest they will probably wait at least a few months or more while only 25 percent think they will attend right away if there is something they want to see. Since most of the responders for this survey came from the greater Washington, D.C. area with a nod to Broadway, I’m hoping the numbers do not reflect Connecticut audiences. The only good news is that the most frequent theatergoers (those who attend more than six shows a year) are likely to attend immediately when doors reopen, although that was 41 percent. Because Connecticut is so rich with community-based theaters, and from my reader responses, I’m thinking we do have many frequent theatergoers. I’m also hoping audiences will return sooner than later.

In a press release titled: “All Theatergoers Will Not Be Ready When Theaters Reopen,” Shugoll reported that about 1 in 3 (31 percent) say they are very likely to return immediately while about 1 in 5 (21 percent) are very unlikely.

Since economic factors are now more of an issue than ever before because salaries have been cut or reduced, unemployment sky high, and investments reduced, theatergoers may be more concerned about ticket pricing. Also in the Shugoll findings health remains more of an issue than economics and is a major concern, especially for theatergoers over age 65 or with underlying health issues.

After reading the Shugoll Research Survey on expectations of audiences returning to theaters, it also indicated that most likely people will not return to Broadway any time soon. This would be a hard hit for New York theaters since they depend on out-of-towners and tourist attendance. However, it will be interesting to see how our local Connecticut audiences respond.

It does make me wonder how many audience members attend more than three or four shows a year? I’m certain that theaters are wondering if the cost of a ticket would make a difference in early attendance? I know some theaters are already thinking of offering special ticket opportunities. With today’s technology theaters need to keep track of statistics regarding audience attendance including information on the age of audience attendees. TheaterWorks in Hartford has already posted a survey on its website. As area theaters try to figure out what will draw audiences back, some of them have already sent out requests for audience input regarding show preferences. Will audiences want to come for a musical, a comedy, or a drama? Will they return if seating is every other seat in every other row? Are they more likely to come if the theater is thoroughly cleaned and offers hand sanitizers in easy reach and will they welcomes mask wearers?

While the Shugoll survey looks less than enthusiastic for a quick back to “normal” occurrence, it is important to remember that most of the findings were from the Washington, D.C. area. Hopefully, that is not a good comparison to Connecticut theaters. I sincerely believe that community theaters will bring family and friends of cast members to their box offices. I also believe that since we are such a small state but loaded with so much great theater ranging from equity, regional, professional tours and community theaters that any Connecticut survey would render far more positive results. Meanwhile, think about theater because I know theaters are thinking about you.

Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: