Live Performance Is Back. But Audiences Have Been Slow to Return.

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Some arts leaders note the ongoing apprehension among some potential ticket buyers about catching the coronavirus. “There are sizable pockets of people, and some of those overlap with our core audience, who are still wary about being in public spaces,” said Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater in New York.

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The slower-than-expected return of office workers to city centers, where many entertainment venues are located, has not helped, either. “We don’t yet see everybody who we used to see coming to see a show after work,” said Aidan Connolly, the executive director of the Irish Arts Center, which presents music, dance and theater at a long-in-the-works Midtown Manhattan venue that finally opened in the middle of the pandemic.

There are exceptions, though, showing that a hot property can still draw audiences.

Some Broadway revivals have done boffo business at the box office, including Neil Simon’s marital comedy “Plaza Suite,” which offered fans a rare opportunity to see the spouses Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick working together onstage; “The Music Man,” starring Jackman, a huge draw; and “Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim musical that is playing to rhapsodic crowds. “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the first work by a Black composer to be presented by the Metropolitan Opera, played to sold-out houses as word of mouth spread.

And the concert industry, which attracts younger patrons than many other performing arts sectors, has been a real bright spot. Live Nation, the global concert giant, recently reported that it had sold 100 million tickets for the full year, more than in 2019.

But scattered hits and crowded concerts can distract from the reality that, for most classical and theatrical institutions and shows, attendance is down, ticket prices are depressed, productions are fewer, and memberships or subscriptions have fallen. The initial post-shutdown optimism — bolstered by pent-up demand — was tempered by wave after wave of new virus variants that raised health concerns and led to numerous performer absences and performance cancellations.

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