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Every crowd has a silver lining

My quest to identify the people who actually attend Canadian performing arts productions led me to the Statistics Canada website…

By Tracy Fuller , in Blogs Engaging the Stage , on February 8, 2008

My quest to identify the people who actually attend Canadian performing arts productions led me to the Statistics Canada website this weekend.

As expected, I was able to find statistical evidence supporting my claim of the senior seat-monopoly. The stats also offered a few reasons why more seats are being filled by very mature viewers.

A 1998 study, which looked at the impact of demographic trends on Canadian arts attendance, suggested that seniors’ attend more dance, theatrical and symphony or classical music performances because they enjoy more 2.3 hours more leisure time per day than the average Canadian.

While I agree that having more time makes it easier for seniors to attend these events, there are other factors, like income, upbringing and an aversion to new high-tech entertainment options (like the internet, video games, iPods, etc.), which make live performances more appealing to people over 65.

From my perspective, it is the public and social aspects of live entertainment that appeal to older audiences in a way that younger patrons just do not appreciate. I am specifically thinking about my aunt’s love for music.

Living in Metcalfe, Ontario, Aunt Marie will drive over half an hour to attend live concerts in Ottawa, on occasion. Although it would be easier and cheaper for her to listen to the radio or buy CD recordings, she rarely touches her stereo. She enjoys the event of the concert and says it gives her a chance to “get out of the house,” see new people and meet others who enjoy the types of things that she does. Whenever possible, she will rope one of her church friends into going with her, which turns the event into a memory the two of them can share and talk about at the time and in the future.

Of course this social aspect exists for younger patrons as well, but it doesn’t carry the same weight. Seniors often struggle with loneliness and isolation. Attending a live performance brings them into the community in a safe atmosphere where they can enjoy the creative work and the social setting at the same time. Many theatres across Canada now host “Seniors Clubs” which congregate older people who might otherwise feel intimidated to attend a production alone. Even the government of Canada recognizes and supports these important community groups.

The average Canadian attends a performance to enjoy the content, not the crowd. For older audience members, however, the experience goes beyond the stage, including the who, what, when and where of the event and everything that surrounds it.

I am glad that live performances provide such complex and wide range of stimulus and satisfaction for older audience members. I only wish that Canadians of every age saw, valued and enjoyed theatrical productions with as much complexity as seniors do.