• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

How Can Theatre Reach Wider Audiences?

ByEmily Moffett

Nov 3, 2023
performers in stage dress

Let’s face it — theatre has a reputation for being an amusement for the higher classes.

Perhaps when you think of ‘theatre,’ you picture a man in a black suit singing in Italian, surrounded by a wealthy audience. Maybe you imagine pretentious women in fur coats gathered in the theatre lobby, drinking glasses of Pinot Noir and chattering about ‘the economy.’ It does not help that movies and popular culture often promote a particular vision of the theatre: as a space that caters to those with plenty of cultural capital, social connections, and a high level of scholarship. 

Regardless of whether this conception of theatre as snobbish is entirely correct, it is true that the most culturally active citizens often represent a certain percentage of the population. The Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value states that the arts “are predominantly accessed by an unnecessarily narrow social, economic, ethnic and educated demographic that is not fully representative of the UK’s population.” Therefore, the theatre viewing audience in Britain today is often restricted by factors such as class, wealth, race, and level of education. 

Historically, theatre was not reserved for a certain status or level of education. Ancient Greek theatre was greatly celebrated, and all classes enjoyed watching the great epics and tragedies. Likewise, in Shakespeare’s Globe, both the rich and the poor would eagerly congregate. Illiterate theatre goers were able to enjoy the oral tradition of theatre, making theatre a more accessible pastime than reading poetry or drama. Of course, the poor would be seated in less desirable areas than the wealthy, relegated to spaces such as ‘the pit,’ where they had to stand in a crowded space. Still, the ‘groundlings’ only had to pay a penny to see a production. 

Thus, one way to make theatre more appealing is to combat the stereotypes around theatre prices. Here in Edinburgh, many theatres offer discounted tickets for those under 26, students, and senior citizens. The Festival Theatre often offers £11 tickets at the box office. Theatre is not simply reserved for those with money, and theatre should be marketed and publicly presented as a hobby for all. 

Because many people may be hesitant to attend an opera in a foreign language or a difficult-to-follow Shakespearean tragedy, other more accessible forms of theatre should be frequently created for the public. For instance, adaptations of popular books and movies could draw in a more varied audience. Similarly, making sure that more theatre productions use language that is not overly embellished or complicated could help bring in audiences who are wary of theatre. 

Moreover, there are many already existing productions that are far from the stereotypical image of pretentious white men droning on in Olde English. For example, Hamilton with its cast of PoC performers and accessible music became a huge hit in New York in 2015. Theatre encompasses a wide umbrella of productions, and while all productions have their value (I admittedly whole-heartedly love a good opera or ballet), there are certain forms that will be more appealing to the masses — and these should be extensively marketed. 

Furthermore, theatre should study and learn from the successes of other forms of cultural media. Perhaps by embracing the less-sophisticated passions of the mainstream — such as popular music, trends on social media, and current movie and tv tropes — theatres could grow their audiences. What can be learned from Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or Taylor Swift? How can theatre follow in the footsteps of these successful storytellers? How can theatre incorporate and market depictions of romance, suspense, danger, or fantasy?  Mainstream entertainment value should be something that is carefully considered, rather than a factor to be scoffed at or ignored. 

Ultimately, theatre should not be seen as a hoity-toity hobby, and there are many ways to fix this conception. Firstly, theatre is not reserved for the wealthy, and ways to get affordable tickets should be clearly stated and marketed. Likewise, theatre productions that are easier to understand and more modern should also be extensively advertised. Secondly, theatre productions that channel an accessible and entertaining form of storytelling might be more appealing to modern day audiences. 

This certainly does not mean that traditional forms of theatre should be eliminated; there will always be an audience for innovative Shakespeare adaptations and beautiful Tchaikovsky ballets. All I am arguing is that, in order to bring in a wider audience, the theatre should endeavor to accommodate an eager public that may not be interested in Le Nozze di Figaro, but is still clearly in love with the art of storytelling. As long as people are reading Game of Thrones, watching Breaking Bad, and listening to Taylor Swift, there is hope for theatre yet. 

 Image “Los bellos dias de Samuel Beckett” by matacandelas is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.