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“A big part of my life”: a qualitative study of the impact of theatre

Ben Walmsley (Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)

Arts Marketing: An International Journal

ISSN: 2044-2084

Article publication date: 17 May 2013




The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact that theatre can have on its audiences, both immediately and over time.


The article evaluates the existing literature on impact and critically reviews a number of benefits models. Through a textual analysis of 42 semi‐structured depth interviews, the paper deconstructs the concept of impact and rearticulates it in audiences’ terms.


Impact emerges as a personal construct articulated by audiences in terms of emotion, captivation, engagement, enrichment, escapism, wellbeing, world view and addiction. Impact is ultimately described as a relative concept, dependent on audience typology and perceived by audiences in holistic terms, incorporating both intrinsic value and instrumental benefits. While catharsis is confirmed as a key enabler of impact, flow emerges as both an enabler and a benefit in itself.

Research limitations/implications

As this is a qualitative study with a sample of 42, the results are not representative of theatre audiences in general. Future research might test the findings of this study in a larger, quantitative survey, which might also test the relationships between the emerging variables.

Practical implications

There are significant implications here for theatre‐makers and venues. From a marketing perspective, more sophisticated segmentation of audience databases could uncover ‘value ambassadors’ to spread positive word of mouth about the impact theatre has on their lives. Venues and touring companies could also consider how to prepare audiences for impact more effectively and how to minimise distraction and facilitate audience interaction with artists and theatre‐makers. Obvious solutions here are mood enhancing atmospherics and well trained front‐of‐house staff.


The originality of this study lies in its audience‐focussed approach. Impact has tended to be constructed from the perspective of producers, marketers and academics, whereas this study invites audiences to describe it in their own, authentic vernacular. These authentic insights are of value to academics, producers, policy advisors, funders and marketers working in the arts, because they help shed light on why people attend the arts and the benefits they derive from them.



Walmsley, B. (2013), "“A big part of my life”: a qualitative study of the impact of theatre", Arts Marketing: An International Journal, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 73-87.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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