Government Backs Free Tickets for Young PeopleDate: 23 September 2008
A new government initiative will offer free theatre tickets to young people across England. The scheme, unveiled today by culture secretary Andy Burnham, will be launched at up to 95 publicly funded theatre venues from February 2009.
Publicly funded venues across the country will be free to apply for the scheme, whereby free tickets will be offered to anyone aged under 26 on a chosen day of the week. It will be “pegged to venues as opposed to productions”, meaning that participating theatres, which could include venues such as the National Theatre (pictured), Royal Court and Birmingham Rep, will have to offer the tickets for the duration of the two-year period. The initial aim is to provide “a million free tickets by March 2011”.
The scheme was set in motion in the wake of the McMaster report which was published in January this year following consultation with the arts industries and recommended an annual free ticket week to encourage young people to experience live theatre (See News, 10 Jan 2008).
Announcing the initiative, culture secretary Andy Burnham said: “Culture has the power to change lives. I’ve seen it myself so many times. A young person attending the theatre can find it an exhilarating experience, and be inspired to explore new horizons. But sometimes people miss out on it because they fear it’s ‘not for them’. It’s time to change this perception.”
The scheme will be funded by Arts Council England to the tune of £2.5 million. Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, said today: "As our Arts Council Plan says (See News, 30 Jul 2008), we want young people to grow up with a strong sense of the possibilities the arts give them. In order to have that happen, we must make it easy for young people to get access to excellent, inspiring art. The free theatre offer is an exciting new step in that journey."
Dominic Cooke of the Royal Court, which was involved in consultations on the scheme, moved swiftly today to back the announcement: “I support any initiative to get young people into theatre, and especially one that aims to do it all over England, and not just in London. The Royal Court has been offering heavily discounted tickets to young people for more than a year now, with the result that our annual attendance by under-18s has shot up by 311% … I look forward to developing the details of this scheme with the DCMS and Arts Council England.”
However, the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) gave the move a “cautious welcome”, expressing concerns about the allocation of free tickets. NCA director, Louise De Winter, is seeking assurances that the money will not just be used to give a "freebie" to regular young theatregoers: "DCMS and Arts Council England, who are administering the fund, must make sure that the money actually does find its way to new audiences ... it needs to be clear what the money is trying to achieve if it is to have a successful and lasting impact".
- by Theo Bosanquet