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Typically regarded as a high brow form of entertainment, the idea of going to the theatre is one which surrounds the concept of live performance and the provision of live entertainment in a setting which is either commercial, independent, publicly-funded or not-for-profit.
While many consumers will consider the theatre industry to be built around London’s West End and Broadway in New York, there is as much going on in the amateur dramatics world as in the high brow professional musical theatre and world of live plays, with the growth of the industry largely down to the idea that more and more theatres and levels of live theatre entertainment are appearing on the market and making theatre something which appeals to and targets a much wider audience.
The development of theatre as its own industry is supported by the rise in experience days and vouchers which consumers can purchase to gift or pay in advance for tickets to a show they want to see, with the hype which surrounds major theatre releases creating a demand which actually proceeds the release of many shows and sees plenty of theatres selling out performances weeks if not months in advance. A lot of this is down to the rise in FOMO across the leisure industry, with consumers and companies alike adding to the marketing trend which sees the target audience being made to feel like if they don’t see a specific piece of live theatre, they are missing out.
Every culture has its own depiction of theatre, and every time period has its own examples of theatre production being brought to life; each with their own levels of vibrance and grandeur depending on the target audience and the style of theatre being covered.
The earliest examples of theatre can be observed as early as the days of Aristotle, who commented on the performance of man and the relation between performances and sacred mysteries. From there, the concept of fictional theatre and the bringing to life of stories became rife in the leisure industry, with consumers and audiences from all over choosing the removal of an immersive live performance as a way of spending their free time away from the chores and routines of everyday life. These included musical shows and performances, comedy plays and serious plays – with each style of theatre offering up its own masters and famous names over the years.
Outside of the theatre itself, there is a whole hospitality industry which exists to support the daily and regular shows put on by the big names in the theatre industry. In London, this is referred to as the West End, with the West End as a destination not only home to the best theatres in London but also home to a plethora of restaurants and eateries which all capitalise on their location and create targeted menu choices which are suitable for diners looking to get a meal in before their theatre show starts. What this does for the hospitality and food and drink industry in these areas is create a demand which sits between the popular lunch and dinner seating’s, while for the theatre industry itself it gives consumers a chance and an opportunity to arrive early, browse the various merchandise and surrounding stores, and likely invest in the programmes and other souvenirs which add to the profits of the industry.
What this part of the industry shows is that theatre is not solely reliant on the provision of a live show – it also supports and is supported by all the businesses which turn a trip to the theatre into an experience rather than just a standard live show.
To unpick this further, it is interesting to note how the theatre industry has developed and grown over time; retaining and holding on to its reputation as a high brow form of entertainment and leisure, while also taking huge steps towards viewing theatre as something more than just sitting in a comfortable seat and watching a professional live performance. A great example of this can be seen in the evolution of experiential theatre, which is popping up across major cities and which tends to draw on well-known stories and famous characters in order to devise something which is entirely unique to a specific audience at any one time. This is the kind of theatre where audience participation is actively encouraged – joining the likes of pantomime and children’s shows which look to the audience to play an integral supporting role in the search for setting up perfect comic moments – with actors often guiding consumers and visitors around active performance spaces, giving them a chance to interact with the acting characters and allowing them to watch the performance play out in the way which they choose to. Some of the best examples of this have been seen across London and tend to revolve around popular concepts such as The Great Gatsby – bringing all the main characters to life within a space and inviting consumers to follow and find out more about the characters and storylines which most intrigue them.
From there, we can start to see how theatre as an industry is evolving and crossing over into something more within reach and more experiential. The breaking of the fourth wall is a concept often explored in live theatre, where a character on stage will break the fictional world created and will speak directly to – and involve – the audience.
For the most part, this kind of theatre tends to be most common across independent providers and smaller more experimental theatres, with groups like the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) being one of those most likely to put on a small performance of an experiential nature – relying on the limited status of tickets as a way of selling. Another prominent name in this sector of the industry is the Experience Theatre Project.
Aside from the rise of experiential and innovative theatre, there are of course the more standard lines of theatre entertainment which utilise traditional spaces and invite visitors to take their seats and observe a world being brought to life on stage either through music, acting and words, or dance. These are the theatre productions which have been around for decades and which will continue to delight audiences as long as the theatres can remain open – with productions like Les Miserables showing no signs of letting up after decades on the stage; consistently selling out shows with the highest priced tickets hitting upwards of £100 per seat. This alone is indication of the popularity of theatre as a form of leisure, supporting the idea that consumers today are still happy to pay larger sums of money for a high quality live performance even with so many options now available on our digital and portable devices.
As an industry, the theatre world is not just wide ranging in the sheer quantity of theatres that it contains all over the world – it is also notorious for the number of productions which are brought to life every year both through professional and amateur performance avenues, and for the stars which it introduces to the consumer as director’s and writers of some of the industry’s best loved productions. Some of the most notorious individuals in this respect include Andrew Lloyd Webber who is renowned for writing some of the UK’s most popular musicals; Cameron Mackintosh who is known for bringing a series of popular stories to life on stage including Matilda and Mary Poppins; and Alan Menken who is particularly known for his work with Disney movies and bringing them to the live theatre stage in terms of great musical numbers.
From a theatre perspective, we have to look at both the great locations and venues, and the companies and casts which have filled those venues night after night for many decades. The Royal Ballet is one of the greatest ballet companies in the world and has performed on stages across the globe, though its home is the Royal Opera House in London. The Royal Shakespeare Company is another top name in the industry for the way that they breathe life into both major productions and smaller and more independent shows, utilising venues from the big West End theatres down to the smaller theatres housed around the smaller districts of main cities. In terms of the venues, some of the biggest theatre names in the UK particularly include:
On a global scale, Broadway matches and even outperforms London’s West End in terms of grandeur and scale, though the most exquisite and traditional theatre experience is still said to stem from the earliest days of the West End in London.
It is also worth noting from a theatre perspective that the rise of theatre academies and performing arts schools is not only having a huge impact on the quality of young child stars, but is also changing the way that consumers look at the professionals who grow up to become a part of the growing industry. It is a known fact today that only the luckiest of individuals outside of the theatre industry are able to break into it through talent - for the most parent, coveted theatre roles and opportunities go to those who have been training for them since school age and beyond.
The majority of the big trends in the theatre industry are centred around consumer experience; with some of the biggest shifts being in terms of the way that consumers are able to enjoy and interact with various theatre productions and experiences. Some of the top examples of this in practice include the screening of live shows to cinema screens and even mainstream television channels, and the rise in concert versions of some of the industry’s most successful musical and ballet performances – with both trends attempting to and succeeding in expanding the target audience and demographic of consumers who are likely to tap into and enjoy the theatre experience. As a result of this trend, the industry is seeing a blurring of the line which sits between entertainment and theatre as a leisure activity, with much of the entire theatre experience still resting on the full experience as a whole rather than just the tuning in for the actual performance. On this, it seems like the variation in ways that consumers can watch and enjoy theatrical performances is taking away a part of the experience which cannot be replicated, and so in expanding its demographic and exploring new consumer touch points, the industry is having to remove a part of itself to adapt.
Another trend which is particularly prominent in the modern day world of theatre is the vast resurgence of old shows which are making a comeback, and the quantity of shows which are being created as live performances of movies and stories which consumers already know and love. A great example of this is the transformation of Mamma Mia into a theatrical musical – a story which was originally based on the songs of ABBA and became a popular movie before transitioning into the theatre. Another example is the recent Harry Potter play which features all the characters and motifs which consumers know from the books and the movies, and turns it all into an on-stage spectacular – the popularity of which saw it sell out for its first few years on the market, with shows still selling out even now though no longer as fast as they did in the early days of release.
To define the theatre industry means understanding the importance of live performances in bringing to life the leisure sector as a whole – providing captive consumers with something which is experienced as much as it is watched. With theatre becoming such a popular activity for so many modern consumers, experience day sites and voucher sites are consistently offering deals and discounts in line with seasonal trends and changing demands, with all manner of ticket providers seeking ways of selling last minute and early release tickets all year round.
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