Last season, 25 to 49-year-olds who attended Broadway shows outnumbered those 50 and up for the first time since 2008-09.
It’s too early to proclaim a generational shift. The audience was younger in the year ending May 21, 2023, than in the prior full season, 2018-19, because youngish age groups shrank less than the entire Broadway pie, which is still missing a slice or two.
The Demographics of the Broadway Audience: 2022-23, published last week by the Broadway League and based on about 18,500 responses to a questionnaire, sheds light on the uneven, ongoing recovery from the pandemic. Overall attendance was down 17 percent vs. 2018-19, with lower admissions for every age group.
While theatergoers 25 to 34 declined 6 percent, those 65-and-up — the group most vulnerable to the ill effects of Covid-19 — fell 36 percent. Hence the average age of the audience dropped to 40.4, a statistical silver lining highlighted in the report. “That was the youngest [average age] in the past twenty seasons,” the League noted.
Diversity also lent itself to tricky math. “One of the positive signs was that this season attracted a relatively diverse audience,” League President Charlotte St. Martin wrote in the report. “The season saw the highest percentage of admissions by people of color” — 29 percent.
But it wasn’t the highest number of admissions by people of color. As the white audience dropped 21 percent from 2018-19, a record season for attendance and grosses, the total nonwhite audience also fell, albeit by 5 percent.
It was nonetheless a big season for Black theatergoers. While the Asian, Hispanic and mixed-race audience was smaller, Black admissions jumped 14 percent.
The increase coincided with a revival of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson with Samuel L. Jackson in an acclaimed ensemble, as well as a Tony Award-winning revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. The season had the largest Black audience since 2011-12, which had featured Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, starring Jackson and Angela Bassett; and a Tony-winning Porgy and Bess, with Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis.
Thanks to the strong Black turnout, last season had the second-highest tally of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) theatergoers since at least 2006-07. It was also the second-highest total for theatergoers of all races age 25 to 34.
As in prior League demographic reports, the average ticket price paid by respondents was far above the industry average tabulated by the League — in last season’s case, $161.20 vs. $128.43. “This was likely due to broker or service fees, which are not included in the box office reports,” the League said in its report.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the perennial top source of theater information for people who complete the survey is ticketing site Broadway.com, a subsidiary of the John Gore Organization. It charges a commission of up to 38 percent, which is more than its major competitors.
Metropolitan area suburbanites showed a worrisome trend. Their attendance tumbled 27 percent last season, amid the enduring appeal of working from home and concerns about the crime rate, which rose during the pandemic.
A potential impediment to winning back suburbanites, who still accounted for 13.6 percent of Broadway admissions last season: New York City’s plan to charge motorists $15 — or $22.50 for those without an E-ZPass — for driving into Manhattan south of 60th Street, including Times Square. Congestion pricing, which would help fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital budget and is also intended to increase travel speeds and improve air quality, could start at the end of this season. It would apply seven days a week until 9 p.m.
The MTA “reserves the right” to charge an additional 25 percent during the holiday season and when the United Nations General Assembly is in session — so-called Gridlock Alert days.
Marc Hershberg noted in Forbes that the League hasn’t commented on the plan. It could also affect the comeback of every major Manhattan nonprofit theater company, save for one: Lincoln Center Theater, which is on West 65th St.