It Takes a Village to Raise an Audience

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Early childhood research reveals the critical developmental need for youngsters to participate in the arts, and many performing arts schools ensure there will be a future generation of outstanding American artists. What we sometimes forget to talk about is who, if anyone, will be in the theater seats when this next generation takes the stage. In other words, the best way to secure an audience for the performing arts is to make sure we’re raising one.

The advent of movies and television radically changed the role of live performance in American culture. The rapid developments in screen technology that paved the way for inexpensive, easy and amateur entertainment set the performing arts on a rapid parallel  evolution competing for audiences in the digital age. In the past 40 years, critics and social theorists have questioned whether or not the performing arts will be able to sustain patronage as the generations become more acculturated to screen entertainment at home and less likely to spend the money on tickets to a live show.

Most patrons of the arts can pinpoint a specific childhood influence that instilled their love of the arts — whether it was a grandparent who listened to opera,  a mother who loved musicals or a school trip to see a regional production of Annie or Romeo and Juliet. Because theater activates a multi-sensory imaginative experience, children make wonderful audiences who may have a formative moment with the performing arts that will last a lifetime.

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As trends in public education continue to edge out creative arts in favor of STEM benchmarks, the need for community support to bring young people to the performing arts grows. Most shows, for kids and adults, offer specially discounted student tickets, which is a wonderful practice although many theaters suspect students do not know they have the option for more affordable seats. Schools, home school programs and  organizations benefit from group discounts. In general, at The Straz, group rates apply to any gathering of 10 or more people, so younger adult audiences who may be ineligible for student discounts may also have access to less expensive group rates if they can come with friends. The Straz Center’s field trip performance series is a special season of weekday performances for children throughout the school year. These performances usually take place at 10:30 a.m. in Ferguson Hall and are a perfect way to begin to build the foundation for a vivid imagination — and a lifelong patron of the performing arts.

The best way to instill a love for enjoying live performing arts is to start audiences young, raising them to appreciate the thrill and transformative experience one can find only in  the theater. Today’s patron of Wee Folk, Kid Time or field trip performances may be tomorrow’s patron of new works from the next generation of Tony®- winning playwrights.