Free Theatre Initiative

In September, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Arts Council announced its plans to offer free tickets to arts events to under-26-year-olds. Following on from the Government’s commitment to free access to museums, as well as more recently swimming, this fantastic scheme will start in February 2009 with an Open Stage Week in up to 95 publicly-funded theatres across the country. This week will run during the most common half-term dates of 16th-22nd February so that it can be enjoyed by its target audience and is designed to introduce families and young people to the theatre and arts world. To encourage this, backstage tours and speeches about the theatre and its operations will also be offered. Then from the 23rd February, the main programme will commence until March 2011. Tickets can be retrieved at least once a week whether you are with a group of people or simply on your own, on a first come first served basis, suggesting that it is not purely a profitable scheme. Its aim is to give increased cultural opportunities to young people as well as to get young adults interested in the theatre as the age range 18-26 is when traditionally arts attendance drops. But why have they introduced this scheme? What factors see less people within this age bracket attending the theatre and what attempts have been made to try and rectify this problem?

One of the reasons why the DCMS and the Arts Council may have introduced this scheme is to enhance the lives of future generations. As well as a leisure activity, the theatre can educate and enrich an audience. It helps develop cultural awareness, cultural skills, as well as community interaction. In education, children are taken to the theatre on school outings; these outings are not purely for the entertainment of the pupils, but they are designed to educate through the power of story and they also help nurture social skills and manners in a new and probably less familiar environment. More so than museum visits or field trips, there is a certain way to behave and you have to have considerations for others who are watching the show. After education, children are less likely to take the initiative to go to the theatre independently despite the fact they may want to, as they simply cannot afford it. These are the people that this scheme is aimed at. One of the points on the guidance document for this project states that this scheme is not for youth groups or school visits, but is designed for individuals to book independent visits. 18-26 is the age range, as mentioned above, that art attendance tends to drop at, and the age when young adults develop. By introducing this scheme, they can set the stage for these young adults to enjoy and indulge in the theatre in order to eventually grow into someone who will be willing to pay to watch shows, inadvertently building a new audience over a period of time that will eventually be contributing to the economy.

The theatre, like many aspects of culture, has practising elitists. Theatre land has attempted to make shows more accessible and appeal to the general public by introducing reality televisions shows such as ‘Any Dream will Do” and “I’d Do Anything” on to our screens. These document attendees to open auditions who showcase their talent in order to star in the latest musical sensation. For those who may be more cynical of such shows, its redeeming point is that it is produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and he is heavily involved in the show, deciding who goes through to the live show finals and each week having the final say over who goes. The public vote for their favourites each week and they watch the turbulent journey that each of the contestants go through, pulling on the heart-strings of the public. It is designed to get more people to attend the theatre as they feel a connection with the stars. But are these people the ones who are attending the shows? Will this really inspire the average person to go to an independent theatre to watch a play, not a musical in the tourist central West End? Some shows, such as Chicago continually enlist household names in order to appeal to the masses and everywhere we go these are the shows that are being advertised. Britain is full of great thespians such as Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs and Ian McKellen and although they are household names, they are only so due to their ability as actors- this is where the line should be drawn at celebrity actors. The initiative will show that there is more to theatre than our celebrity obsessed world. By working with independent theatres, it will show that there can be emotion and a connection with a character through the power of their acting, not simply because you watched their journey from day one on the television.

Students and young adults are always looking for cheap ways to entertain themselves and with theatre prices exceeding £10, even with concessions, there will always be cheaper alternatives. Free tickets however will be much more attractive to these people. It will also help to dissolve the elitist attitude that is associated with the theatre, making it accessible for all youngsters. But whether this scheme will have any long-term impact remains to be seen. This scheme lasts for two years and to a certain age group; after this period, how many people will be willing to pay for tickets after previously getting them for free? Once you know it is possible for the government to introduce measures such as this, it may be hard to accept you eventually have to pay.
SE For 3E News With Research by 3E

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