Entertainment & Arts

Free theatre ticket scheme had mixed results

Mackenzie Crook
Image caption The scheme was backed by actor Mackenzie Crook

A government scheme to attract young people to the theatre by giving away more than 500,000 tickets had mixed results,a new report has suggested.

A Night Less Ordinary had £2.39m of government funding, with participating venues including the National Theatre.

The independent report found 6,800 young people went to the theatre for the first time because of the project.

But 30% of participants admitted they would probably have paid for their ticket without the subsidy.

"Despite the level of deadweight, it needs to be recognised that A Night Less Ordinary successfully generated a substantial number of additional attendances and participants," said the authors of the report.

The scheme ran from February 2009 to March 2011, and was administered by the Arts Council.

It set out to test whether theatre attendance by people under 26 could be increased and sustained if the price of a ticket was removed as a barrier

More than 200 venues took part, with an estimated 80,000 people watching a production for free.

Even though many were pre-existing theatre-goers, the report found that 56% of participants saw a type of show they had not seen before.

The Barbican acknowledged that some of its visitors had "tried contemporary dance for the first time, not because they had an interest in the art form" but because "it would be a missed opportunity not to give it a go".

In total, 81% of people who took advantage of the free tickets said they were more likely to go to the theatre again.


Prior to the scheme, the chief barrier for potential theatregoers was the price of tickets, the report said.

However, it noted the price was not the only factor. There is a "discernable mismatch between young people's leisure interests and what many theatres offer", it said.

Often, theatres are off-putting or intimidating for younger audiences, who "want to feel... they are going into a friendly and attractive place where they can afford to buy a drink," the report continued.

The Royal Shakespeare Company agreed that ticket prices were not the only barrier for young audiences.

"We need to offer more and communicate other messages," it said.

"It's not just about seeing theatre. Exhibitions, restaurants, cafes, can be the first step to engaging people, once they are in you sell them a ticket for a special event for non-theatregoers."

The report also contained feedback about the ease of implementing the ticket giveaway.

Some customers said they were put off by a complicated booking process. Venues complained about the demands of administrating the scheme, and said it undermined their existing ticket offers.

But others said the project had "greatly influenced our thinking on how we encourage young people to attend".

"As a direct result, we have devised a membership scheme called The Discovery Card for 16 to 26-year-olds," noted the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

Announced at the Labour Party Conference in 2008, A Night Less Ordinary originally aimed to give away one million tickets.

This was later scaled back to 500,000; and the coalition government curtailed the scheme in summer 2010, when the national marketing campaign was wound up.

However, the report's authors said that the project had created a "sustainable legacy", as 88% of young people who took up the offer of free tickets "would be willing to pay for their theatre experience" in the future.

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