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Jan. 25 2013

Instant Audience: Just Add Casual Attire?

By Dyana Neal | Posted in Host Blogs | 7 Comments

I have a confession to make: lately, every time I see an article or a blog post about finding ways to attract new (and presumably younger) audience members to classical music performances, I groan. Actually, I’m starting to wonder if they’re all the same piece, or at least written by the same author. Inevitably, they bemoan the aging and shrinking audience for symphony concerts/opera/chamber music/whatever and offer the exact same solution: casual clothing! Yes, if only everyone in the house (both onstage and off) was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, every performance would be sold out! People would immediately¬† stop buying tickets to sporting events or other types of concerts and pack the concert halls!

Why am I so cynical? First, this discussion has been going on since at least the late 80’s. Second, I think the desperate, even whiny tone that articles on audience-building so often take would be enough to put anyone off classical music. Who wants to hear stuff that’s described as elitist, outmoded, and boring, regardless of what anyone in the room is wearing? Third, I’ve noticed that a number of patrons at arts events already dress casually – and those who do tend to be at least my age or my husband’s. (We’re both over 40, in case you were wondering.) So much for attracting young ‘uns.

Here’s another confession, probably unnecessary if you’ve read my previous posts or know me personally: I love to get dressed up. So does Jim. I’ve had the immense good fortune to marry a man who knows how to dress for any occasion and does so willingly. Neither of us is a particularly conventional person; we just like to look our best and keep special occasions – gasp! – special. We seem to be quite out of the mainstream in that regard, especially in an era where jeans can easily cost as much as a silk dress or a great pair of shoes.

If attendance at sporting events was in decline, do you really think management would be crying “We’ve got to get the players out of uniforms!” Would they blame the game at which they make a living? I wonder. Do I have a magical solution that will fill every empty seat in the concert hall or theater? As one who not only attends performances but takes the stage every chance I get, I wish I did. I just don’t think a mere change of clothes will do the trick, especially when accompanied by a negative attitude.

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Dyana Neal

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Dyana is WBJC's midday host. Her full bio can be read here.

7 Responses to Instant Audience: Just Add Casual Attire?

  • Andrew says:

    Thank you for this! Spot on!

  • Dyana Neal
    Dyana Neal says:

    Thanks; glad you enjoyed it! Here’s an interesting, vaguely related piece on audience behavior. I find the interviewees’ reactions to coughing a bit OTT, but must confess I have no tolerance for talking during a performance & have had the urge to smash more than one cell phone over the years.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/31/coughing-cell-phones-twitter-and-other-taboos-of-o/

  • Diana Ross
    Diana Ross says:

    At a sporting event, the audience isn’t dressing to a implied standard. You aren’t looked at funny unless you show up in a tuxedo. Or in the opposing team’s colors (but that’s a whole other thing!)

    I like the idea of seeing the Met at the movies. I can have access to something I’d usually not attend because of distance, ticket price and attire.

    I also like that the BSO has a more casual Sunday concert schedule. But I think that shouldn’t diminish the Friday or Saturday night on the town feel.

    It makes these events a little less intimidating to those of us who want to hear the music, but don’t necessarily have the wardrobe.

  • Dyana Neal
    Dyana Neal says:

    Interesting points, Diana. Just playing Devil’s advocate – isn’t there also an implied standard of dress at sporting events (casual?) And you’re right, wearing a tux to a ballgame would look pretty silly!

    I’m a fan of the Met at the movies, too, and I just wear what I’d normally wear on a Saturday afternoon when I attend those broadcasts. That said, live performance will always be my first love.

    The idea of giving people a casual option (such as setting aside certain performances for laid-back attire) is intriguing. It’s not for me, but it obviously works for some people. I just don’t want the “on the town” feeling to go away completely! ;)

    • Diana Ross
      Diana Ross says:

      I think ‘casual’ could be an implied dress code, but not nearly as much as if everyone were expected to wear a team hat. ‘Casual’ is pretty wide-ranging as compared to ‘black-tie.’ I think we should try ballroom attire to an Orioles game once :D that’d be so fun!

      My husband and I had a similar conversation recently about dress codes at restaurants. He’s for it, and I’m a staunch opponent. He made the point that the attire of everyone in the dining room helps to set a mood (in this case, of elegance). I can’t understand how someone at the table next to me wearing jeans while I’m in a dress diminishes my dining experience.

      Now the behavior of the next table could certainly affect me, and maybe the mindset is that if you are dressed better, you will behave better. But there are always exceptions to every rule!

  • Diana Ross
    Diana Ross says:

    I should totally put this into the newsletter… Dueling Dy/ianas go at it!

  • Dyana Neal
    Dyana Neal says:

    I love the idea of wearing formal attire to a sporting event, mostly because it combines two of my favorite activities: dressing up and messing with people’s minds! :)

    I’m with your husband, both because I want special occasions to be special in every way and atmosphere is a big part of a fine dining experience for me – and for Jim, too. Alas, the trend does seem to be moving in the opposite direction. These days, not only are the customers at a “hot” restaurant likely to be in jeans (probably $300 ones, but jeans) the staff may be as well! I actually get a lot of dirty looks and the occasional rude comment for wearing skirts. I’ve also had friends say they’d love to dress up to go out, but feel pressured to wear jeans because “that’s what everyone else will be wearing.” Dress code, anyone? In some ways, I feel like “modern” attire gives us fewer choices, not more, and don’t get me started on food trends, although they may well be the subject of my next blog post.

    Haha, feel free to put this in the newsletter! Anything to get more readers… ;)

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