Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 11:58 UK

Will free seats attract young theatregoers?

Dominic Koole
BBC News

Picture courtesy of Keith Pattison and the Young Vic
Ticket prices have been reduced to tempt the next generation into theatres
With competition from bars, clubs and other nights out, theatres have been struggling to attract young people through their doors. So the government is offering free tickets to under 26s. Will it work?

Under the plan free tickets will be on offer for one day a week at 95 venues around the country.

The scheme, to be rolled out across England by February next year, is open to anyone under 26 - but will be specifically targeted at the 18-26 age group.

Last year an estimated 30% of young adults, aged 16-25, visited a theatre, 7% lower than those aged 26 and over. So what would attract younger audiences?

'Priced out'

Price is one factor thought to be putting would-be theatregoers off.

"Cost is always a huge issue when going to the theatre. When the price goes down, I'm sure more people will go," says Jane Edwardes, theatre editor of Time Out London.

Recently, TV actress Catherine Tate said that the high prices - 50 in some theatres - made it "elitist" and said that she would be "happy" to take a pay cut, if it meant more people could see her on stage.

Everyone under 26 is eligible for free tickets on one day a week
95 venues across the UK will participate
Free tickets will be available from February next year
Tickets will be available from the venue on a first come, first served basis

But according to Caz Brader, who runs an outreach programme at the Bolton Octagon Theatre, the cost of ticket is not the only obstacle.

"A lot of people still perceive theatre as a 'high art' or 'high culture'", she says.

"Price must be an issue for some people. However, we have a special ticket for 4 for young people for any show and we sell hardly any of them.

"The hard work is encouraging young people to get involved, explaining to them what theatre is all about."

At the Bolton Octagon, Ms Brader runs Activ8, an outreach programme aimed at getting groups of young people who would never normally be theatregoers to visit the venue.

Working closely with local schools and community groups, the theatre puts on four special productions a year, free of charge. Each show is carefully chosen, so the topic of the play is of interest to the audience of the night.

In these shows, around 75% of the audience are new attendants.

Picture courtesy of Ellie Kurttz and the Young Vic
Giving young people acting experience could boost youth audiences

"The most important thing to do is to put on a good show," says David Lan, artistic director at the Young Vic.

"The main reason that people don't come to the theatre is because the shows are boring."

He stresses that this does not necessarily mean doing away with Shakespeare, but simply producing work that is exciting for people.

Even so, if the free ticket scheme is properly promoted, Mr Lan thinks it will go some way to encouraging young people through theatre doors.

The Young Vic gives away 10,000 free theatre tickets a year to groups of young people and community groups who would never normally pay a visit. Mr Lan says the scheme has proved very successful, with lots of people returning to the venue.

To get people excited about going to the theatre, they need to have had personal experience of it
Jane Edwardes
Time Out London

"We have learnt that it is to do with establishing relationships with people. It's about understanding communities, visiting schools and disadvantaged groups.

"The onus is really on the theatres."

Besides going out into the community to encourage people into theatres, it has been suggested that giving school pupils more practical experience of acting at school would also boost the number of young people in audiences.

"To get people excited about going to the theatre, they need to have had personal experience of it," says Jane Edwardes.

"We need to get people more involved in schools, acting and directing, so they are inspired to go and watch people who are better than them."

Much like playing sport, if someone experiences the theatre first-hand as a child, they are more likely keep returning to it into adulthood.

"Whether people go to the theatre as adults depends largely on whether they went when they were children," says Professor Ken Roberts, a sociologist at the University of Liverpool.

Culture secretary Andy Burnham says that theatre "can change people's lives, it can give them new insights, it can broaden their minds and help them achieve their potential".

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that young people with free tickets "would get the most natural experience possible" and would not be stuck with the worst seats in shows that are selling badly.

Government backs free ticket plan
23 Sep 08 |  Entertainment
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08 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
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08 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
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01 Sep 08 |  Entertainment

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