Performing Arts

Mapping audiences for the performing arts in the Northwest.


This project traces the current and future development of performing arts audiences in the North West and Border regions, within an analysis of changes in leisure patterns and in attitudes towards the arts; and in terms of the processes that shape participation an arts related activities.

The Research Team

Dr. Eammon Jordan Principal Researcher Department of Business & Humanities, IT, Sligo. Dr. Perry Share Joint Researcher Department of Business & Humanities, IT, Sligo. Ms. Aisling Palmer Research Student Department of Business & Humanities, IT, Sligo.


It is highly original in that there has in Ireland been no systematic, regionally-focused research on audience development or cultural consumption. It is also original in that it combines insights from the disciplines of business, sociology and dram/theatre studies. This is greatly facilitated by its location within the Applied Social Studies programme.

This century provides a challenge for the performing arts industries. Technologies of entertainment both domestic (videogames, digital TV, online entertainment) and public (theme parks, cinema, spectacle) threaten to erode audiences for ‘traditional’ modes of performance such as theatre, ballet and live music.

Public funders (e.g. the Arts Council) and private sponsors alike are also more concerned with accountability, ‘relevance’, value-for-money and evidence of strategic thinking, It is no longer enough to put on a show and hope that people will come: a concern for and knowledge of multiple audiences is required.

Sligo, Letterkenny and Enniskillen are regional centres for the performing arts, with a strong infrastructure of performance spaces, theatre companies and cultural events. Major institutions such as the Hawk’s Well Theatre, An Grianan and Ardowen Theatres present new and established work, and act as receiving houses for touring promotions , that embrace a wide variety of performance types.

Their audiences are thus complex. Part of the remit of such institutions is to develop a broad audience base. However, like many other theatres, they face major challenges in retaining and building audiences and in attracting specific audiences, such as young people.

There has been significant recent theatre development in Ireland, with eight new venues opening in the Republic in 2000, and a similar number set to open in the North this year. The lessons learnt from a study of audiences patterns within the Northwest and Border region will provide essential information for these newer venues.

Project Details

The changing nature of performing arts audiences in the specified regions, Ireland and internationally.

This will involve a literature review that focuses on the historical and contemporary development of the audience for the performing arts. It will include research with relevant primary and secondary documentation including, inter alia, archives and documents held by the relevant theatres and other cultural organisations in the three regional centres and their hinterlands; contemporary newspaper research; consideration of theoretical analysis of theatre and other arts audiences, consideration of the impact in new technologies, theatre architecture, competing entertainment forms and other influences on audiences.

The development of the three regional theatres, in terms of its self-definition and definition of its audiences, including its programming strategies.

This will involve interviews with current and former members of staff an board members of the Hawk’s Well Theatre, An Grianan and Ardowen Theatres and other relevant individuals (e.g. local government personnel); analysis or primary and secondary documents (e.g. theatre programmes, newspapers reviews) and other relevant material.

Changing audience trends, drawing in the theatre’s own market research and box office data.

This will involve meta-analysis of extent data on audiences, including box office returns, existing market research data as well as any surveys of current audiences.

Attitudes towards the arts in the North West and Border regions.

This will involve an interview-based survey of a sample of local residents, identified from electoral registers, in order to measure broad attitudes towards the arts, art-related behaviours, and attitudes specifically towards the performing arts and the local theatre.

Future strategies for the maintenance and development of specific audiences.

This will involve analysis of international marketing and audience-development strategies, with a view to adaptation to local circumstances. Application of a range of audience development scenarios to information on existing and projected audiences.

The research methodologies employed will include:

  • Analysis of primary and secondary documents
  • Meta-analysis if existing audience data
  • Survey research using questionnaires and semi-structured interviews
  • Scenario development

The output of the research will be formal dissertation and separate non-technical report for use by theatre staff and board, arts administrators and other interested parties. There will also be deliverables in terms of production of seminar and conference papers during the project, and briefing reports for the industry partner. Given the important differences between the theatres in question, an anticipated output in typology of regional theatres – and their strengths and weaknesses – that will be of considerable use in the industry more generally.