Bean plants, horse costumes and dazzling women’s dresses are dusted off in theaters across Britain for the return of pantomime season. Oh yes I am!
But with the pandemic still behind us, new research suggests many people are reluctant to return to live entertainment.
As party season approaches at the end of October, theater ticket sales have fallen by a third from pre-pandemic levels, according to the Audience Agency.
Christmas shows are key for theaters to gain and reach new audiences.
Most productions were canceled or curtailed last year, but venues can stage shows with no capacity restrictions this Christmas.
Audience members bought 473,807 tickets in the week starting October 25, the last available week.
In the equivalent week of 2019 – before the pandemic – 715,210 tickets were sold, which means there was a 34% drop.
The Audience Agency tracks sales across more than 340 UK locations.
Ticket purchases increased during October, and some manufacturers signaled a further recovery this month, suggesting sales could recover.
Meanwhile, some major West End theaters, which are not part of the survey, have sold out.
Public Agency Chief Executive Anne Torreggiani said the decline is “more of a problem for places and organizations in smaller cities, outside the big metropolitan centers”.
He said: “The holiday season – panto and other traditional holiday offerings – could be down by 30% or 40% in the worst case. This obviously has a very serious effect on many organizations that spend a lot of money on those Christmas productions, waiting big sales.
“The effects could be quite dramatic. Many locals are in a fairly healthy situation with the payback money they got from the government, but this could be a terrible blow.”
In further research done in October, 23% of people said they would normally go to a halt in a typical year, but only 17% rated their chances this year as eight in 10 or higher.
Older people are less likely to participate, with 6% of those over 65 rating their chances as at least eight out of 10, compared with 26% of those aged 16 to 34.
Meanwhile, some schools in Scotland have canceled their panto trips this year, according to The Stage newspaper.
Trevor MacFarlane, director of Culture Commons, said: “This could spell trouble for locals in every village, town and city up and down the country who rely on panto-full production to bring up to a quarter of the total box office. receipts for the year.
“This income funds the remainder of the program of the year as well as important community outreach and education activities.
“There are several factors at play here. School and group bookings are still down from 2019, and even older grandparents and significant others might, understandably, be reluctant to join younger families and friends in theaters.
“In places outside of London, particularly in non-metropolitan areas, concerns about returning to cultural activities in person appear to be even more pronounced.”
The Center for Cultural Value, which led research with the Public Agency and the Center for Creative Industries Policy and Evidence, “will continue to monitor the situation and share emerging findings with the government,” he added. .
Emily Wood, co-director of Evolution Productions, which stages 11 pantomimes across the UK this year, said the box office had a “slow start” but is now experiencing a “sharp surge”.
“We saw a completely different sales model than normal,” he said. “But in reality, things are catching up very well.
“Certainly, the last two weeks have been much stronger than the equivalent two years ago, because I suppose we have had more willingness to sell. So we are recovering well and things are looking really positive.”
Separate search released earlier this month found that 32% of past theater audience members had no plans to return to the venues yet.
Most said they avoid interacting with crowds or fearing other people will not comply with Covid’s security measures.
Andrew Lloyd Webber told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday that the low number of people wearing face masks in cinemas is “a problem” and that he would like to introduce mandatory masks in his six venues.
Test time in the new year
But he said it would be better if the whole West End did it together. “At the moment, I don’t think we’re going to go through my theaters,” he said. “Of course, it depends on the individual producers.
“I think it’s probably best at the moment for the West End to do it as a body. I would introduce it myself, yes, but at the moment I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Lord Lloyd-Webber added that many West End shows are doing well, especially with younger audiences. “I think what we will find is that the new year will be the testing point,” he said.
The Society of London Theater, which represents the West End, said many of its members are seeing audience numbers at pre-pandemic levels.
Lord Lloyd-Webber offices require members of the public to show proof of vaccination, negative test or natural immunity, despite not being a legal requirement in England.
Other theater operators are also applying for Covid passports, such as the Ambassadors Theater Group, which operates 37 venues in the UK, and the Storyhouse in Chester.
Covid passes are mandatory to enter cinemas in Wales and will be mandatory in Northern Ireland from next week. The Scottish government has stopped requiring them.
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