Sep 6, 2012

Performing arts audiences stagnating: Crikey analysis

A major new analysis of public source attendance data for Australian performing arts companies published today by Crikey reveals stagnating audiences across the sector.

Ben Eltham — <em>Crikey</em> arts commentator

Ben Eltham

Crikey arts commentator

A major new analysis of public source attendance data for Australian performing arts companies, published today by Crikey, reveals stagnating audiences across the sector. Crikey analysed data from 17 large opera, music, theatre and dance companies from 2007 to 2011. The results will make for sleepless nights across the boardrooms of major performance organisations. Most companies are shedding audiences, and attendances in total have declined by 6% over the past five years. Of the 17 companies Crikey surveyed, 10 have seen declining audiences since 2007. Perhaps most worrying, this figure includes all six of the largest performing arts companies with audiences of more than 200,000 annually. Australia's largest performing arts organisation, Opera Australia, is down about 130,000 attendances from its 2008 peak. However, it's not all doom and gloom. Arts companies in the west are bucking the trend. Companies based in Perth are taking advantage of a booming economy, new venues and an increasingly culture-hungry local audience to record impressive growth in their total attendances. In particular, theatre company Black Swan has more than doubled its footprint, while the Western Australian  Symphony Orchestra and the Western Australian ballet are also showing healthy gains. The other stand-out performers are Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, both of which added significant new audiences in the five-year period.

Attendance figures for 17 major Australian performing arts companies between 2007 and 2011. Total attendances fell from 3.26 million to 3.05 million in that time.

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5 thoughts on “Performing arts audiences stagnating: Crikey analysis

  1. Alex

    Thanks Crikey for publishing the raw data.

    I think the graphs are a bit misleading with the auto scaling google docs applied. For example the Belvoir attendance graph shows a giant crash for 2009 which was ‘only’ (heh) a 30% drop in tickets. Better to use graphs with a minimum of 0 or show both absolute numbers along with percentage change.

  2. skink

    the increased attendance at Western Australian companies, and Black Swan in particular, can simply be explained by the fact that until last year Perth did not have a decent modern facility for theatre.

    the opening of the State Theatre Complex is possibly the sole reason for the increase in attendences, but praise is due to Black Swan for making the most of the opportunity and commissioning new work for the venue

  3. cathyc

    I wonder what difference it would make if you’d looked at smaller theatres as well. In my opinion, by far the most important theatre in Australia is Red Stitch and I imagine in its modest expansion over recent years it must have taken some custom from other theatres. There might be others too.

  4. Tony Ward

    Very interesting data, Ben

    As someone who does some work in this area, it’s clear one key factor is the quality and buzz of what’s performed. The 2011 Live Performance Australia (LPA) Ticket Attendance and Revenue Survey (p34) notes a massive jump in attendances in Sydney last year due to the success of the touring production of Richard III.

    More generally, and looking longer term than your data, theatre audiences have an interesting demographic change. This is evident in the ABS data (catalogue 4144.0) for the age groups of people attending theatre over the past 15 years:
    15-34 age group 1,054,000 in 1995, 894,000 in 2009-10
    35-55 age group 880,000 in 1995, 1,084,000 in 2009-10
    55+ age group 402,000 in 1995, 868,000 in 2009-10
    (the overall number of people attending theatre grew by 22%, just less than the 24% for the overall population)

    So theatre lost young people – but more than doubled the number of 55+ people coming along. As you argue, this too differs a little between States

    Tony Ward
    Milbur Consulting, Melbourme

  5. Brenna Hobson

    Belvoir’s figures are completely skewed by the fact that we had Keating! playing in a number of large venues around the country in 2007 and 2008. The company’s audiences in its home venue have actually grown signficantly in the period 2007-2011.

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