Risk perceptions are defined as an individual’s subjective beliefs about the characteristics and severity of a risk. These beliefs make up the core components of theories behind a persons behaviour.
With restrictions starting to loosen around the country, large scale productions have a number of hurdles ahead of them, for producers to feel confident that a project will be safe to open and financially viable.
Public risk perception will weigh heavily on any producers decision to stage commercial productions as audiences may be reluctant to congregate at large scale gatherings. It is therefore important to understand how audiences form and modify their perceptions towards risk, as this will define the path of the Australian theatre industry back to its pre-COVID glory.
As a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19 during a pandemic is determined by both their behaviour and the external factors imposed on them, understanding how risk perception may vary across different age groups is important for the remobilisation of the Australian arts industry. To put it bluntly, the risk in this instance may be life or death. At this point in time, current scientific evidence suggests a higher risk for those with more years under their belt, certain ethnic minorities, and those with underlying chronic health conditions.
An example of an external factor affecting public risk perception is the source of an individuals choice of news. As different generations of Australians receive their news through different media outlets, they ultimately have different perceptions of the risks implicated by the current events. Consider an individual who consumes news through media outlets that provide pessimistic projections, of how this health crisis might play out, compared to media outlets that downplay the severity of the pandemic. Undoubtedly risk perceptions and consequently behavioural choices are directly shaped by the sources we choose to receive our information.
A study done by UK research group Audience Agency compiled data from more than 500 venues and 10.6 million UK households. It showed the largest age group for theatre-goers were people aged between 65 and 75, with the average age of an attendee being 52. This highlights that the largest theatre-going audience is also at the highest risk.
This brings me back to the question of how public risk perception – of an invisible virus – will impact the remobilisation of Australian theatre. A recent survey done by The Stage UK showed that of 86,000 people who regularly attend the theatre, 40% would not consider booking tickets again in the foreseeable future despite missing live entertainment during the lockdown. On the contrary, recent reports in Australia suggest that as lockdown measures are being eased around the nation, the general consensus is that the ‘worst of the threat’ is now over and we can pretty much go back to living life the way we were pre-COVID-19. However, choosing to attend a restaurant with strict social distancing in place is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to when consumers will finally feel ‘safe’ about sitting in a 1500 plus seating capacity theatre.
As countries across the world struggle to flatten the pandemic curve, amidst outbreaks of a potential second wave, the decision to stage large scale commercial productions becomes even more of a gamble. Understanding how individuals and households react to information and compliance measures becomes of even greater importance to the risk-averse entrepreneurs and industry veterans.
With that said and done, as it currently stands, how do you feel about attending live theatre in the foreseeable future? Please fill out the short survey below and we will publish the results in the coming weeks.