Published by Roberta Emerson

To find out how people felt about enjoying live entertainment and coming to the theater in the current COVID-19 environment, we sent out a survey via email and social media on June 12 and collected data until June 30. Just over 400 people responded and their input, especially their many written comments, was very valuable and will help inform our decisions over the coming months.

Here’s what we learned….

Attending LIVE performance matters and people intend to come back.  83% said attending live performance was either “very important” or “important” to them. Most (68%) indicated that over the long-term they plan to “attend about the same as I did before” and 5% said “more than before” with one person writing in the comments “I realized how much I missed you and how much our lives need the arts.”

BUT … they’re not sure when they’ll do so. This was not a surprise. The question was approached several different ways to try to capture varied perceptions.

Asked “When will you feel comfortable returning?” the most common choice (45%) was “When I’m reasonably confident that the risk of virus transmission at venues is minimal,” followed by “as soon as restrictions are limited” (21%) and “after I’ve been vaccinated/immune” (18%). Fewer than 3% said they “don’t anticipate attending again in the foreseeable future.”

Asked “If restrictions were lifted July 1 …” most (31%) indicated they were “not sure” when they would be comfortable attending. However, August was the next most common choice at 24.5% and 19 respondents wrote into the comments “July,” “immediately” or similar statements.

When asked “If the Bankhead were open in October, what size audience would be you be comfortable with?” the top choice (37%) said “Half/254 seats,” but the second choice at 19% simply said “I would not be comfortable attending.” A full house got the support of 11%, roughly the same as those selecting just 100 seats.

New sanitation protocols will be essential. The list of new safety precautions was received very positively with wiping every seat/armrest, providing hand sanitizer, and limiting audience size the highest ranked. With the new protocols in place, 56% said they would be “very likely” to attend. Asked if masks were required inside the theater, 87% said they would still attend.

Right now outdoor options are preferred. In keeping with current information and regulations, most would like to see outdoor performances (73%) or outdoor art exhibits (53%) with restricted attendance. Events “in theater with extremely limited attendance” appealed to half and online or streamed events were chosen by 38.5%.

Interest in streaming events is mixed. Some said it was an excellent option since live performance was not currently available. This was especially true for those at high-risk (or whose family members are), and who may not be able to attend the theater for a much longer period. However, many other people said they were not interested in streaming options from the Bankhead as they already spend too much time on the computer or they have found a wealth of competitive artistic offerings available online, many of them free.

We have loyal patrons. 46% of respondents buy tickets to more than three events a year and 7% buy more than 10 tickets. Most (65%) have attended resident company performances in the past two years. Many of our patrons are both fortunate and generous. The majority (68.5%) of respondents indicated they have been unaffected financially by COVID-19 and a number said they would be willing to pay a temporary sanitation surcharge or help by making donations or becoming a member.

In reviewing the data and in reading every one of the hundreds of comments of support, praise, and criticism, suggestions and recommendations, we feel very lucky to be sharing the arts in such an enthusiastic and committed community. It did not escape our notice that when asked “what would you consider doing to help us come back strong?” one of the most common write-in comments was “Volunteer.”

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and staying connected with us. If you missed the survey or have other input, please feel free to reach out at any time to Executive Director Chris Carter at We are deeply grateful for your support and are working hard to find new and creative ways to deliver on our mission and continue to share the joy of the arts.