A major study into young Australians’ attendance at live theatre, launched this week, shows a love of theatre remains alive in our youth.
TheatreSpace is the largest study of its kind in Australian history, surveying the views 2779 young theatre-goers from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne across four years.
It is led by the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education in partnership with the Griffith University and the University of Sydney.
The study found young people with a strong family tradition of theatre-going have the highest likelihood of attending after school. For young people without such a family tradition, committed English and drama teachers play a crucial role.
Associate Professor Kate Donelan from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education said this role deserved acknowledgement. “Passionate teachers foster young people’s enjoyment of theatre, increasing the chances they will become independent theatregoers after leaving school,” she said.
The NSW component of TheatreSpace also found 40 per cent of young people attending live theatre were from non-Anglo Australian backgrounds, the majority of whom attended with school. For many of these young people, live theatre attendance was not part of the regular cultural experiences.
However, Professor Robyn Ewing from the University of Sydney noted few performances in the study sourced script, direction or production values from outside a western theatre tradition.
“To really engage young people from non-English speaking backgrounds, theatre companies need to start looking beyond western sources of material,” Professor Ewing said.
Young people told researchers they seek live performances that are relevant and challenging. In particular, they enjoy dynamic interactions, sensory experiences, humour, physical action and believable characters. Deterrents from attending included lack of information, lack of social connectedness to other young theatre-goers and a perceived risk that the performance may not be enjoyable.
Griffith University researcher Associate Professor Penny Bundy said the TheatreSpace findings provide valuable evidence for the wider performing arts industry in Australia.
“Our industry partners include the main stage theatre companies and leading cultural venues in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. TheatreSpace provides them and the wider arts industry with valuable evidence to inform their programming in years to come,” she said.
TheatreSpace is hosting a symposium at the Sydney Opera House from November 14 to 16.