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Why people go to the theatre: A qualitative study of audience motivation

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Theatre is a complicated pastime, bridging the fields of arts and leisure and the drivers of aesthetics, hedonics, emotions, education and entertainment, to name but a few.

Pincus (2004) claims that quantitative research has failed to provide a true synthesis of motivation; and while some insight can be gleaned from recent research into the motives of event-goers and museum and gallery visitors, as well as from impact analysis of arts and cultural events, the complex motivations of theatre audiences remain unclear.

This paper therefore aims to explore the fundamental drivers behind theatre-going and to fill a gap in the literature on audience motivation. The paper achieves this through a comprehensive qualitative study of theatre-going at Melbourne Theatre Company and West Yorkshire Playhouse, which was carried out in 2010. The methods employed comprise a combination of qualitative techniques, including responsive depth interviews and participant observation.

The research finds that the key motivating factor for participants was the pursuit of emotional experiences and impact. This contests previous findings in other arts and leisure sectors, which prioritised escapism, learning, enhanced socialisation and fun. The paper concludes that motivation should be regarded as a construct determined by a complex combination of drivers and recommends that theatre organisations invest time and money in customised motivational segmentation and in enhancing the audience experience.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-12-01

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