Commentary: Older audiences are fine, but theaters need more young people

Don Aucoin, The Boston Globe, 6/17/12

Why don't more young people go to the theater? That question ought to be on the front burner this week as about 1,000 regional-theater professionals gather in Boston for the national conference of Theatre Communications Group, whose membership includes more than 500 theaters across the country. It's been a persistent problem for years, and the American theater needs to find a concrete solution pronto, because [it] is in danger of becoming a boutique business. "Theaters do need to be proactive in terms of engaging younger audiences,'' said TCG executive director Teresa Eyring. But she added a caveat. "I also think that theaters should love their audiences, whoever their audiences are. There's something wrong with the idea that there's something wrong with audiences that are older. Theater should be for everyone.'' Amen to that. But too often "everyone'' does not include people under 30. Let's stipulate that some of the onus is on college students, who fail to avail themselves of steep discounts. [But] since twentysomethings and thirtysomethings [are] usually not eligible for student discounts, why not follow the lead of companies that aim beyond the student population -- [offering $20 or $25 tickets] to any show for those 35 and younger. Another part of the answer clearly lies in building a stronger presence in the schools. Social media and other marketing tools should also be used more imaginatively. Theaters could dive deeper into the talent pool of new playwrights and performers, which could lead to more work that young audiences would consider must-see material. It won't be easy, but the American theater has to find the missing piece of this puzzle. The alternative is long-term decline.


Commentary: You want young? Start by changing arts conferences.

Shoshana Fanizza, Audience Development blog, 6/15/12

Due to [lack of] funds, I am only able to go to one conference a year. [But] Twitter has been so incredible for following conferences around the globe. Recorded keynotes have also been helpful. Recently I was watching the final keynote for the League of American Orchestras conference, "A Call to Action" by Clive Gillinson. His actual speech begins about the 30 minute mark. I loved what he had to say since it was forward-thinking. Become a part of the community and ask what you can do for them rather what can be done for your organization, etc. However, the delivery, the presentation and how he was dressed, was very formal and old school. I have been thinking that, in order to "get outside of the box," perhaps we need to let our hair down more at these conferences instead of being so gosh darn formal. Which brings me to the "You want young?" part of this post. We all need/want younger audiences, right? Many times, at these conferences, we hear from the older generations. Very few conferences have younger speakers as a main event. Are we listening to our younger generations? Are we allowing them to get their viewpoint across to us? If we want younger audiences, maybe we need to start listening to our younger participants. I hope in the future to see more diversity in our conferences if this is what we are truly striving for. I am grateful to see some exceptions, but for the most part, older white guys are still ruling the roost.


Commentary: Introducing the Gershwins' music to a new generation

Judith Miller, Tablet magazine, 6/8/12

"It is particularly important to me that new generations experience and enjoy the rich, historical, and timeless music that my great-uncles left us all," said Jonathan Keidan, a 38-year-old founder of a digital media start-up called, whose grandmother was George and Ira Gershwin's sister. Of course, enticing a new generation to Broadway for the Gershwins' music is a sine qua non of sustained profitability, and the Gershwin estates make between $5 million and $8 million a year. "We're keeping the brand alive," said Mike Strunsky, a trustee of the Ira Gershwin estate. "Do we make a buck? Yes, that's America." [But] the heirs' commitment to introducing the next generation to the Gershwins' music in user-friendly form was apparent on any Wednesday matinee [of Porgy and Bess]from March through May. Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the estate, matched by roughly $33,000 from NYC's Department of Education, some 2,000 high-school students had a chance to see the new production. Students paid $15 [for] the best available seats. Scattered throughout the audience, most of the students seemed transfixed. After the performance, a show of hands revealed more than half of the students who lived less than 10 miles away from the Great White Way had never seen a Broadway play. Few had ever heard a Gershwin song. Of those who had, most recognized only "Summertime." The winner of an early American Idol had performed it, one student volunteered. Broadway's aging audiences attest to the need to introduce a new generation of Americans to not just the Gershwins, but to the musical theater genre itself. In 1982, patrons under 30 comprised 27% of theater audiences throughout the nation, an NEA study showed; by 1997, they comprised just 16%.


Commentary: Aging movie stars fail to draw younger audiences to new films

Todd Cunningham, The Wrap, 6/18/12

Box-office stars Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler both stepped out of their comfort zones in movies that opened this weekend -- "Rock of Ages" and "That's My Boy" -- and landed flat-footed.   Warner Bros.' $74-million "Rock of Ages," with Cruise as an aging rock icon, opened to a disappointing $15 million. Sony's $65 million "That's My Boy," with Sandler in his first R-rated comedy, did even worse with just $13 million. Both are likely to lose money, say box office analysts. In the case of "Rock of Ages," exit polls indicated that young people just didn't show up. For Sandler, the comedian's first R-rated comedy drew an audience that was [only] 52% under 25, suggesting the rating may have cost it some young moviegoers. Going the R-rated route, in theory to connect with his aging audience, seems to have hurt rather than helped. "His audience is aging," said [a movie studio] executive, "and they've had kids, and they want to go with their kids to see an Adam Sandler movie." Meanwhile, "Rock of Ages" director Adam Shankman said in interviews [he was] hoping young men would go for the hard rock theme. "This is 'Mamma Mia' for dudes," Shankman [said] in an interview last week.One marketing executive didn't see the logic: "It's a musical, you've got Alec Baldwin running around in weird hair and it's filled with songs from the 1980s," he said. "How many young guys want to see that?"


Commentary: The fallacy of the arts' "savior demographic" (younger audiences)

Composer/musician Jon Silpayamanant on his blog Mae Mai, 6/14/12

The received wisdom from the "classical music is failing" camp is that the industry must get a bigger [and younger] audience to offset the performance income gap (the gap between performance revenue and operating costs). The figures show a steady decline from roughly 70% [to] 90% of ticket revenue covering total expenses (back in 1937) to between 35% and 40% of ticket revenue covering expenses today (less for opera and ballet). In other words, the performance income gap is increasingly showing us that there are structural deficits built into an industry which cannot have an increase in production to offset rising costs due to inflation. This is known as the Baumol Cost Disease. Lisa Hirsch and I have been having a conversation about the similarities of the sports industry with regards to the Cost Disease. The basic idea is that sports teams function no differently than orchestras in so far as they are just as prone to the Cost Disease since it will still take as many players to play a game today as it did a hundred years ago. But [the sports industry] is considered "profitable" while [classical music] is increasingly being referred to as being in crisis. What has made up the shortfall in performance revenue for sports then? [A major] revenue source [is] television. The odd thing about television is that [advertisers] look at the demographics of the viewership. The magic demographic is 18-49. The older demographic is demonized by television because it doesn't fit into the demographic that businesses arguably consider the best to target (i.e. the 18-49). The irony is, with an aging population, this is making less and less sense since the buying power of the older demographic is so much higher. But this bias against aging audiences is being seen replicated in talk about the demographic of audiences for classical music.

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