Last year I was given a grant - as part of the British Theatre Consortium - to investigate theatre audiences, what they do, how and why they value theatre, and the roles it plays, if any, in their lives. The principal investigator was Janelle Reinelt at Warwick University, and Chris Megson (Royal Holloway), Julie Wilkinson and I were co-investigators, with playwright David Edgar as consultant and Jane Woddis (Warwick) as project manager. We partnered with The Royal Shakespeare Company, Young Vic, and Drum Theatre, Plymouth taking nine shows from their 2013-14 seasons and exploring audiences responses to these shows by a series of questionnaires, interviews and workshops.
The findings are necessarily provisional and offer, more than anything, suggestions for new directions of research. What is clear from all the research is that the theatre is highly valued by its audience and that its value is entwined in its audience's lives: we had evidence of people using the theatre as an opportunity to inform and articulate their political views of the world, to reflect on their lives and relationships, and to come to terms with ageing, mortality and loss. We suggest also that theatre spectatorship might be fruitfully considered as a long-term activity, in two senses: first, there is evidence that the memory of a single show matures and changes over time, beginning with an appreciation of the theatre's sensuous immediacy and then, within a couple of months, becoming a more reflective, cognitive memory; second, there is plenty of evidence that theatregoing is something that enriches a person to the extent that it may be considered a key part of life-long learning.
You can read the report by clicking on the cover (above) and David Edgar wrote a valuable article for The Guardian about it, which you can read here. There are some more commentaries on the report here and here.