Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Best Things in Life are Free?

Across the pond, something interesting is happening. The government is offering a different kind of entitlement program: Free Tickets:

18- to 26-year-olds will be able to take advantage of free tickets from next February for two years. They will be available on a first come, first served basis for at least one performance on the same day each week.

In a briefing at the Labour conference in Manchester, culture secretary Andy Burnham announced that £2.5m of public money will be made available for the scheme, which will operate at up to 95 publicly funded venues including Birmingham Rep, the Young Vic and the National Theatre. Dance, music and other art forms are to follow, it is expected.

Is this basically a Hail Mary pass in the ongoing skirmish between younger generations and theatrical enlightenment?

There have been a variety of responses.

Critic Lyn Gardener posts at the Guardian blog:

Now I'm not great at maths, but even I can work out that means that a theatre will only be getting £2.50 for each seat it gives away. This is less than the £5 that the National currently gets from its Entrypass scheme for teenagers, and could be less than schemes that other theatres have in place including pay-what-you-can nights. Of course £2.50 is better than nothing if your theatre is half-empty, but will more successful or smaller venues be keen to sign up to a scheme in which they must make the same number of tickets available on a weekly basis over a two-year period? Or will it be only less popular theatres, or those doing substandard work, who jump on board?

Of course I'm in favour of anything that encourages young people to become independent theatregoers. Theatre is very much a habit, and one that many lose as soon as they leave school and the annual trip to the local panto and Stomp! behind.

And a Community Project Manager for the Young Vic Theatre writes about her experiences with free ticket programs.

10% of Young Vic tickets are given away free to Lambeth and Southwark schools and colleges, young people and to our local community through our Two Boroughs project. Why? Simply because we want to. There is no catch. Going to the theatre is a risk for lots of people: it's expensive, has an elitist reputation, some theatre buildings intimidate.

We try to eliminate the risks and break down the barriers. From the moment we tell people about a project (and reassure them they don't have to dress up…) we encourage them to think of the Young Vic as theirs. If they don't like what they see, they can get up and go. Nothing lost.


So-called "audience development" is often tagged onto marketing. We try to make it different. Most people who attend through our Two Boroughs programme will never be able to afford a full-price ticket. The point of them attending is not to turn them into ticket buyers.

1 comment:

Charles G. Baldwin said...

Wheelock Family Theatre gives away thousands of free tickets each season (almost 10%) - as access to theatre is part of our mission. Affordability is part of accessibility... the value is social (teaching empathy, sympathy, civility) as well as personal. No, it doesn't help the bottom line, but we believe the value of the experience cannot be quantified in a financial report.