Anyone who regularly attends the theater, orchestra concerts, opera and dance programs knows that they will be surrounded by an audience filled primarily with older patrons.
The Sarasota area is filled with retirees with the money to buy tickets and support dozens of performing arts organizations, and the time to attend. Occasionally, they will bring their children or grandchildren, and sometimes specific performances or productions will have a more direct appeal to younger people in the community.
But what about the Younger Residents and visitors to the area, perhaps single professionals or couples raising families? If they’re not buying tickets now, will they ever become the next generation of arts attendees and supporters? Is there a switch that goes off the minute retirement begins or the kids head off to college or their own lives?
Arts Newsletter:Sign up to receive the latest news on the Sarasota area arts scene every Monday
Meet Peter Rothstein:Asolo Rep turns to a familiar artist to be the new producing artistic director
Expanding to North Port and Bradenton:Inspiring messages in outdoor art display mark 20 years for Embracing Our Differences
“It is a real concern today and we face that with our market,” said Richard Hopkins, producing artistic director of Florida Studio Theatre. It’s also an issue that hasn’t changed much in decades. “We have to stop fighting the demographic fight by making theater as accessible and affordable to as many people as we can,” he said.
This season, several Sarasota arts organizations are more actively addressing these concerns by creating social groups and special events to get younger patrons more involved as audience members and, perhaps, as future subscribers and donors.
Here’s a look at some of the new and continuing programs.
Meet Arcadian Broad:Sarasota Ballet dancer finds the right ‘Frequency’ for new Choreography
Support for new venues:New Sarasota Performing arts center receives second $10 million gift
Concerts, events, arts and more:100-plus fun things to do in February in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties
Sarasota Ballet Relevé Society
The Sarasota Ballet launched its new Relevé Society last year to appeal to people aged 21 to 45. An initial gathering last fall for the season-opening production of three Premiere Ballets attracted about 80 people, more than initially anticipated.
The name is a French word used in the dance world “to raise up on one’s toes,” said Lauren Stroman, the company’s development director. The group is intended to raise “up this next generation of arts enthusiasts, to educate them for the ballet and help them build appreciation for the art form.”
It offers a three-tiered membership program. The first level is free and includes communications about upcoming events and performances, discounts to all ballet performances and invitations for meet-ups at ballet performances. The second is $100 and comes with additional benefits, including invitations to receptions with Dancers and discounted tickets for the Friends of the Sarasota Ballet Showcase Luncheons. The top level, Relevé Leaders, is $500 and also includes complimentary tickets to the Friends of the Sarasota Ballet Luncheon as well as opportunities to serve as greeters at ballet performances and to serve on the Relevé Leadership Council.
“It’s super important that we’re doing our job to cultivate that next generation of arts enthusiasts who will be there for us in the future as audiences, donors and supporters and make them feel part of our company,” Stroman said.
She said it is “instrumental to any arts organization to put the time and effort into building these younger audiences and promoting an opportunity that maybe some young people aren’t aware of. People are glued to their phones and are always go, go go. We need to help them realize how amazing it can be to walk inside a theater and put the phone on silent and take in everything happening on stage.”
For more information go to sarasotaballet.org.
Sarasota Opera DaCapo Society
In 2016, Sarasota Opera created the DaCapo Society, targeting people 21-40. It has restarted after a pause due to COVID and offers discounted tickets and social gatherings surrounding productions.
The group will gather Feb. 23 for “Madame Butterfly,” March 2 for “Don Giovanni” and March 16 for “Ernani,” with pre-show receptions at 99 Bottles. The three-opera Subscriptions are $150, a $120 discount off regular prices, with the option to buy additional tickets for $50 each.
Like the other organizations that attract large segments of an older population, Sarasota Opera hopes having a group of younger people gathering together on specific nights will make them more comfortable in attending.
“The idea is Let’s get together a group of young people for social events, go to dinner beforehand, three receptions before the performances and inspire people that way,” said Elyza Wylder, the company’s marketing associate.
An Opera House tour event in January attracted about 20 people, and the company is now offering a “try out” for DaCapo membership that allows individuals to buy a ticket to one of the three performances for $50 and attend the pre-performance reception.
For more information go to sarasotaopera.org.
PlayDate at Asolo Rep
Asolo Repertory Theater is hoping to engage parents with young children through its new PlayDate program, which provides theater activities for kids ages 5 to 12 while parents watch a show.
The theater launched PlayDate with two Matinee performances of “Cabaret” in December and will continue with “The Three Musketeers” on Feb. 11, “Silent Sky” on March 4, “Chicken & Biscuits” on April 1, “Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help” on April 15 and two performances of “Man of La Mancha” on June 3 and 10.
A show to see:Joyful ‘Silent Sky’ inspires pride and heartwarming spirit at Asolo Rep
Reviews:Rollicking ‘Three Musketeers’ take audiences for a fun ride at Asolo Rep
The program is coordinated by the theater’s Education and Engagement department. Parents can drop off their children starting at 1:15 pm before the 2 pm Matinee and the workshops end at 5 pm Each workshop is developed around a theme that ties into the show that the parents are seeing. The cost is $25 per student.
“This has been at the back of our minds for a long time,” said Managing Director Linda DiGabriele. “We can’t wait to see how it goes.”
The workshops will be held in the Asolo Rep Annex building, 5333 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, located about a block from the theater’s main building.
“This is a teaching workshop. It’s not babysitting,” DiGabriele said. “We are making it fun and educational for the children.”
She said parents with young children “have so much competing for their time and we’re trying to make theatergoing easier and more of a habit and help them realize what’s in it for them.”
For more information go to asolorep.org.
With its tagline “Come as you are, leave different,” the Sarasota Orchestra has been working through promotions and programming to remove any barriers potential audiences might feel about attending.
“With Classical music, there’s an expectation of not being sure how to be if you’re attending,” said Kerry Smith, the orchestra’s director of artistic programming.
While it does not offer specific programs for young adults, Sarasota Orchestra has been focusing on broadening the appeal of Classical music with its Discoveries series concerts, which were originally launched to introduce Classical concerts to audiences in a casual manner. The Orchestra is presenting two free family concerts of Tchaikovsky’s “Peter and the Wolf” on Jan. 29 in Holley Hall to introduce concerts to audiences of all ages. The two performances are at capacity.
And this season it launched a new Guided Tour series, which features commentary and perspective on music being played during a weekend of Masterworks concerts. The conductor talks to the audience about the major pieces and leads the Orchestra through excerpts of the regular programming.
It also attracts a broad crowd with its lighter programs, including Great Escapes and its Pops series.
For more information go to sarasotaorchestra.org
Older people are accustomed to being offered early bird discounts at restaurants and other benefits. At downtown Sarasota’s Urbanite Theatre, younger people are offered discounts to encourage their attendance.
The company has tried to attract young audience members by offering discounted $25 tickets for those 40 and younger (with valid ID). Regular ticket prices are $39. It also offers $5 student tickets.
Co-founder and co-artistic director Brendan Ragan has said it is still a struggle to draw that Younger adult audience on a consistent basis.
“People think you must have a really young audience because of the discounts and the content, but people under 40 only make up about 15 percent of our audience,” said Ragan, who along with co-artistic director Summer Wallace fall in the age range that arts groups are trying to attract.
“In Chicago, you can see a show and not a single person is over 60,” he said.
But when younger people attend, they are often surprised by what they experience.
“I hear it all the time when people under 40 come they say they had no idea theater could be like that. They thought it had to be something else that they didn’t think they would like.”
More than many theaters, Urbanite’s plays, like its recent “The Burdens” and the current “Birds of North America” often have a focus on younger characters and situations.
For more information go to urbanitetheatre.com.
Florida Studio Theatre
With five theaters and several different subscription series, Florida Studio Theater tries to appeal to a diverse age range, even though the average audience tends to be 50 and older.
Producing Artistic Director Richard Hopkins said people in their 20s and 30s “are more likely to be cherry picking shows instead of going to a subscription series. Most of them are not going to the theater. they’re going out for a wide variety of reasons and the prime driver is to meet others. That is huge and we need to speak to them, ergo our FST Improv program, which speaks to a Younger audience.” He expects the Improv series to expand to a four-show season later this year.
Reviews:Stakes are high for expectant couples in Premiere of ‘Babel’ at FST Stage III
From film to stage:FST gets ‘mad as hell’ for regional Premiere of ‘Network’
Select shows in the theater’s Cabaret series and its more provocative Stage III series also attract younger people. “When we did ‘Hand to God,’ that attracted a younger audience. It had an anti-everything vibe going for it,” said Managing Director Rebecca Hopkins.
Targeted marketing can help reach younger people, but Hopkins said in “all the years we’ve been tracking, the most effective thing is still word of mouth. 60 percent of all ticket sales come from word of mouth.”