UK performing arts audience survey

One-third of respondents holding off Christmas theatre purchases

Interim research from Purple Seven and Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM) released this week reveals the scale of hesitancy in bookings for festive theatre trips in the UK.

From responses received between 25 October – 7 November 2021, exactly one third of the 513 respondents stated that ‘I’m waiting to see what happens with Covid’ before committing to book. 

This data comes from the UK Performing Arts Audience Survey, a rolling poll of audiences at 40 participating performing arts venues around the UK. It was established in March 2021 by Purple Seven and MHM with the DCMS to track the recovery in audience confidence. 

Age a key factor in hesitancy

Further analysis from the study showed that age is a key factor in audiences holding off on booking tickets - those aged 65 or over were almost twice as likely (42%) to be waiting to see what happens with Covid as under 45s (24%). 

Significant differences between Culture Segments

The survey includes questions that allow categorisation of respondents by their Culture Segment, a powerful psychographic segmentation tool designed to increase understanding and engagement of cultural consumers. 

There were significant differences in behaviours between Culture Segments with only 14% of the risk-taking ‘Stimulation’ segment holding off on booking compared with 40% of the more cautious ‘Affirmation’ segment. 

For those who were changing their usual plans for Christmas, concerns about the high Covid case rates were the main reason for this: 

"I want to keep myself and my family safe and I don’t think people are taking COVID seriously anymore and venues cannot impose restrictions without Government lead.” 

"Due to the uncertain situation regarding the rates of Covid currently in the community I am unsure of being indoors with strangers from all areas" 

Only half Christmas theatregoers definitely planning a trip

"If [venues] have some quieter performances, we would recommend proactively managing their inventory to allow social distancing in at least part of the house"

- Medwen Roberts, MHM Director

MHM Director, Medwen Roberts, commented: “We know that more regular and recent theatregoers are more likely to complete our weekly confidence tracker, so the results are biased towards loyal audiences.

"Venues should consider the needs of their older and cautious bookers. If they have some quieter performances, we would recommend proactively managing their inventory to allow social distancing in at least part of the house. It will then be crucial to make sure ‘hesitant’ previous bookers know there are these new seats available.”

Of the respondents who stated that prior to 2020 a theatre trip was part of their festive celebrations ‘every year’, only 50% stated they were ‘definitely’ planning a trip in 2021. 

“If COVID is kept under control and we can send the right messages about safety to our hesitant customers, with pent up demand, this could become a Christmas to remember for the performing arts in the UK.”

- David Brownlee, Managing Director, Purple Seven

The survey also asks about attitude to face coverings.

The majority (86%) of respondents expect to wear a face covering when attending a performance theatre with only 8% being put off going to a performance by this requirement.

However, only half of those expecting to wear a face covering would expect to do so throughout, including during the performance.

Age had a significant impact on expectations, with almost half (46%) of those aged 65 or over expecting to wear a face covering during a performance compared with less than a third (31%) of under 45s. 

Purple Seven's Managing Director, David Brownlee, said: “As well as customer sentiment, we also track revenue coming into the box offices of hundreds of venues around the UK.

In the summer we observed advance bookings for December were well down on their 2019 levels. Sales have greatly improved since then, and aggregate advance revenue for December is now less than 10% below this point in 2019.

The fact that so many previously loyal bookers are holding back from booking is both concerning and a cause for hope. If COVID is kept under control and we can send the right messages about safety to our hesitant customers, with pent up demand, this could become a Christmas to remember for the performing arts in the UK.”

A full report will be available later this year, but MHM and Purple Seven have released this interim analysis to allow the sector to respond and adapt their practice to encourage more hesitant bookers to return.

Get future insights from the UK Performing Arts audience survey via the MHM email.


Data Director Medwen has overall responsibility for the quality of the quantitative data that Morris...