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How Theatre Encourages Well-being – and Can Engage a Wider Audience

  • Russell Vandenbroucke and Suzanne Meeks

Extract

A recent study of single-ticket buyers and subscribers at a major regional theatre – Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky – focused on measuring quantitatively the psychological benefits of engaging with theatre and gathering qualitatively observations by focus groups. Both confirmed the hypothesis that regular attendance promotes flourishing and meaningful social interaction, psychological stimulation, and positive emotions. The study also affirms that attending theatre contributes to a shared sense of community, this at a time when such community appears starkly diminished in the United States. In addition, focus groups wished that audiences better reflected the demographic diversity outside the auditorium. Evident disparities include urban vs. rural, prosperous vs. not, more education vs. less, black vs. white – reflecting those that splinter national politics. One microcosm of one theatre's audience provokes suggestions to foster a more democratic audience and plural istic culture that endeavours to cross rather than ignore the divides. Russell Vandenbroucke is Professor of Theatre at the University of Louisville and Director of its Peace, Justice & Con flict Transformation programme. He was previously Artistic Director of Chicago's Northlight Theatre. Suzanne Meeks is Professor and Chair of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department, University of Louisville. Her research focuses on mental health in later life.

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