1. To perform (something) in front of a specific audience. It was disheartening playing to only a handful of people, but we still got up on the stage and did our best. I still can't believe we played to a sold-out stadium on our very first live performance! I bring my guitar around to the local retirement community every Saturday and play to the old folks there for a couple hours.
2. To perform (something) with a specific audience or portion of the audience in mind. The actor became more and more exaggerated in his slapstick, clearly playing to the younger people in the audience who were responding more to the physical comedy. The singer-songwriter seemed to purposefully eschew the songs that propelled her to mainstream success, instead playing to those who appreciated her earlier, most experimental music.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
play to someone or something
1. to perform something for someone or a group. The cast played to one of their classmates who was confined to the hospital. Gerald Watson will play to a small gathering of wealthy socialites this Saturday evening.
2. to aim one's performance only toward a particular person, group, or a particular taste. The comedian was playing only to the juveniles in the audience. It was clear that she was playing to the people in the cheaper seats.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.