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On Stage

On Stage: The Cost of Attending Theatre

Visitor 7 / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

This commentary originally aired on November 9, 2015.

Diminishing audiences have been an increasing problem for theatre, for Broadway and regional stages alike.

In large part, the issue can be traced to cost. For a Broadway production, tickets to the hottest show can reach such stratospheric proportions, one has to wonder who, exactly, is attending at all, and what happened to theatre for the people. Even Shakespeare, after all, had a place for the Groundlings.

Under such economic conditions, only the well-to-do are able to see live theatre in many places. Does this dictate the content that professional theatre has to offer? Of course it does. It also limits the range of ages among audience members. According to data collected by the Broadway League, statistics on the ages of theatergoers have steadily skewed middle-age and older—because unless you come from wealth, chances are good that you're saving your pennies to take that big trip to New York City to finally see a real Broadway show, and with ticket prices averaging $100 and having reached as high as $500, one might well reach middle-age before acquiring the necessary amount of cash to do so.

Local theatre struggles with this dilemma, as well. Students and young adults have access to a variety of amusements, including live music and film, that compete directly for their disposable income. Student pricing is one way local theatres strive to bring in younger audiences. Staging contemporary works is another. It's a subject that bears serious study—the survival of live theatre depends on attracting younger audiences.