October 1, 2008


The Guardian reports:  

Young people are to be given free theatre tickets in a new government-funded scheme, it was announced this morning.  [Tuesday September 23]

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.

Mr Burnham said: "Theatre can change people’s lives, it can give them new insights, it can broaden their minds and help them achieve their potential.

"The Tories regard this as a luxury for those who can afford it.

"There was a period in this country when, sport, culture and arts were seen as add-ons. [But t]his is what gives people quality of life."

Burnham denied the scheme was a gimmick, referring to the case of gallery and museum access, which has been free for many high-profile institutions since 2001 and is widely credited with having helped boost visitor numbers.

"The evidence speaks for itself," he said.

The idea of widening free access was recommended in Brian McMaster’s report on the future of British arts, released in January, which suggested that admission charges to all publicly funded arts – whether a theatre, an opera house or a gallery – should be scrapped for one week a year.

It also builds on successful cheap ticket schemes such as the National’s Travelex season and the RSC’s £5 tickets for young people. Several high-profile theatres already offer pay-what-you-can evenings, while young person discounts are a familiar part of many theatres’ ticket offering.

Mr Burnham launched the scheme at the Lowry while visiting the cast of Salford Macbeth, a community production involving both professional actors and local people.

He said it was an "accident" that he happened to be attending a rehearsal of Shakespeare’s play about a Scot whose ambition drives him to scheme against his master. The culture secretary all but shares a name with the wood in the play that is central to that Scot’s downfall. This parallel went unremarked.

"We might produce good drama in the Labour party at times," Mr Burnham said, "but at the end of the day we will bring the house down, and you will see the Labour members get behind [Gordon Brown] and support him and rise as one at the end of the performance."

Lyn Gardner – blog: Will it make any difference?  

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