May 28, 2009

The Free Theatre Initiative

Kip Chapman      posted 26 Oct 2008, 02:26 PM

In response to your article from the UK regarding free theatre tickets to youth….

Earlier this year Bruce Phillips and I developed “The Free Theatre Initiative – Investing in Theatre’s Future.”

I think Bruce sums it up very well…………….

Basically it involves making the theatre free to people under 20. (!)    Now before you stop reading… there is some logic to this.

1.        It starts with a major press release.  It is a striking concept and could gain nationwide interest, if not international interest.

2.       It could be trialled for a year and we would monitor the results to see what effect it has.

3.       The seats would only be available to shows with unbooked seats.  i.e. as a stand-by offer.


At the moment many of our shows have a lot of unfilled seats.

We are constantly seeking ways of creating a  new audience.

Many young people are unused to going to theatre or have had bad experiences (i.e. being bored)

The amount of entertainment options are growing constantly, theatre must fight to remain one of them.

A scheme like this is highly unusual and COULD be very attractive to young people perhaps wanting to come to see what theatre has to offer but being put off by financial concerns.

If they like a show they will talk about it A LOT, parents would hear about the shows and hopefully decide to come as well.  Their older friends could be intrigued come as well, telling their older friends they must go and they would pay top dollar.

The marketing opportunities are very appealing as the concept is eye catching and thought provoking.

The scheme tells the world that theatre is desirable and necessary.

Getting young people into the habit of seeing theatre should be our first aim.

Now obviously our very popular shows are going to be full and this will be unavailable.  For shows like (insert name of your biggest box office flop here) which have many empty seats available –  what have we to lose by letting a number of people in free?  Absolutely nothing,  – the actors have a fuller house to play to and the experience will set the kids up with an expectation and desire for more theatre. Surely our principal aim?

So have a think…I know it is against every grain of thinking we are used to…but there is the core of something quite exciting and radical in this scheme and it deserves a lot of discussion.  Kip would be happy to come and discuss it more fully if I have missed something out.

Cheers,  Bruce

…. We dare you.

Kip Chapman 

debs rea               posted 27 Oct 2008, 11:21 AM

Only giving under 20’s free tickets to less popular “biggest box office flop” shows will sabotage your goals. Why would they come back?  It could put them off theatre completely.

They need to be shown well crafted innovative works which fascinate and open up discussion. They need to be shown that theatre can be risky and delicious and that it can still exist outside of 1950’s etiquette and Roger Hall plays.

Kip Chapman      posted 27 Oct 2008, 11:55 AM

A box office flop can still be innovative, well crafted and exciting. Just because people don’t come to a show doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are many many other factors that determine a shows success.

Rhys Latton         posted 30 Oct 2008, 04:36 PM / edited 30 Oct 2008, 04:39 PM

If anything, conservative “Roger Hall” etiquette pieces are served up because they put bums on seats… Some of the best, most innovative and risky works I’ve seen (I’m remembering Under Lilly’s Balcony as an example), suffered through audiences not knowing what they were in for and staying away.

Could be a good option if managed correctly – My issue is that PAYING for a show is part of the ritual of theatre. Many young people (in the west) are used to getting life on a platter and don’t really see the value of what they’re getting. Would they value a free theatre experience more – or less?

Welly Watch       posted 30 Oct 2008, 10:22 PM

‘conservative “Roger Hall” etiquette pieces’ – say what? Etiquette? Rhys, please explain.

Julia Truscott      posted 3 Dec 2008, 10:58 AM / edited 3 Dec 2008, 02:50 PM

I think young people aren’t exposed to much theatre and sometimes what they do experience bores/ partronises/ preaches perhaps??? maybe along with this initiative which is worth investigating we need to bring theatre to them…. i have been teaching drama on and off in sec schools and there are few opportunities for the students to see good, innovative, challenging, funny, not-boring and relevant theatre.

I don’t understand why more companies don’t take their work to schools after a season… there’s money out there (1000 students paying a dollar each = $1000 for one performance wow maybe i should have taught maths although there are few schools where you could play to that many people maybe 2 X 500 and $2 each.. im on fire!).. just thoughts. I’m hoping to freelance next year and bring more life into our schools via performances/ workshops etc.

Also where is the street theatre? Why are we afraid? let’s come out of our dark cloisters, the relative safety of the theatre (and the usual crowd) and bring theatre to the people…

Brian Hotter       posted 4 Dec 2008, 10:44 AM

I work in a High School and money is a big barrier for students going to theatre.  Anything over $5 (other than the Opera) there is little or no point in offering it over to them.  If the theatre was free (and I think it should be all theatre, with a limited amount of school seats put aside each season regardless of the popularity of the show and that they should be  directed specifically at decile 1 schools from low socio-economic areas not schools that go anyway) to secondary students I have no doubt that we would take them to it.  I myself was introduced to theatre at 16 years of age throughout my time at high school and would not have experienced it any other way it is something my family are just not interested in.  So I say yes, free theatre to a selected minority, those who need it. 

Rachel Lenart     posted 12 Dec 2008, 01:27 PM

I thoroughly and wholeheartedly support this initiative. As a director and a producer I would much prefer to have a full house than a half full paying audience. The earlier people are exposed to theatre, the more likely they are to continue to come. As for the argument that they don’t need to see crap second rate theatre, well, who does. its always a gamble. there are excellent and average shows out there, (and its worse when you’ve paid to see a bad one) just as there are excellent and average films released. One bad experience in the cinema doesn’t put an audience off forever. In fact, it is entirely useful to see both good and bad shows and for kids to begin to discern what they like and why. As all my students in theatre at Vic learn very quickly, you can learn a lot more from a bad production, than a great one. While we’d not be trying to teach or preach to these kids who’d come to our shows for free, its really really important that kids discover that there is more to theatre than poorly produced shakespare with naff sets and hysterical flayling psudeo ‘naturalism’

I think this inititave will work brilliantly, if the whole theatre community gets behind so the diversity of the shows availible is as wide as possible. A few tickets per night will not break anyones budget and will contribute immeasurably to the future of theatre in this city.

I think us theatre makers could learn a lot from this too. As Peter Brook says, If you can’t keep a child engaged, your show isn’t ready for grown ups either. Children and teenagers are the least forgiving and most honest of theatre goers. They can also be the most generous too.

I really hope Kip and Bruce can get this off the ground. I’ll be the first to sign up.

sam trubridge    posted 12 Dec 2008, 05:15 PM

Yes, a really good idea I think!

Graeme Bennett              posted 28 May 2009, 03:53 PM

Better late than never.

Here at the Hawkins Theatre in Papakura we have programmed and booked a balanced programme of community and professional theatre and dance, as well as lashings of film, mediums and great music. In early July 09 we are hosting Taki Rua’s Strange Resting Places, primarily because its such a great show and is likely to be appealing to broad cross section of punters.

As part of the NEW audience development programme we have established a FREE ticket iniative whereby we have made available 40 tickets for those under the age of 26 through advertising it in a targeted magazine from a specific area in Sth Auckland. This will allow us to locate these people obviously from the area, and then be able to use the same initiative to find these Under 26 year olds in other areas as well for other shows.

The FREE ticket initiative is targeted, as is our 2-4-1 on our facebook site which is also targeted, we then overlay it with a newspaper, poster, e-flyer and PR / editorial campaign. Oh did I mention ZONTA and Rotary are on board selling tickets for one night also. Its all about capturing info to ensure we can continue to talk to them about upcpming shows.

On the back of all of that we have a quarterly entertainment guide called ‘The Hawkins Report’. It has to be said but the Hawkins Theatre was quite a find for me, so far we have programmed / booked John Rowles, Dame Malvina Major, Jennifer Ward Lealand, The Underarm, Intl Comedy Fest and Tempo NZ Dance festivals and so much more. Our marketing spend is high currently, but in the future I am certain the punters will fill the theatre on a much reduced marketing budget with longer seasons.

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