How can a theatre that is 'owned' by an older audience matter to a young audience?

Daniel Buckroyd, 13 July 2012

Attended by: Daniel, Paul, Clare, Kitty, David, Michael, Nat, Laura, Ed, Phil, Susan & Candide.

Discussion of what we mean by ‘owned’ - could relate to governance (older age profile of Boards) but predominently we were talking about a senes of ownership growing out of repeated visits and familiarity of programme/audience - a proprietorial stance - the challenge being that this group are a significant economic force in the life of a theatre and so can ‘sway’ programming towards that familiar territory.

However, benefits of a loyal audience not to be underestimated - it can provide the confidence needed for more adventurous programming - an opportunity to take this audience on a journey to encounter less familiar work.

Lots of discussion about the character of buildings/different spaces within buildings - the ‘feel’ inherent in the architecture and communicated by the nature of the welcome - big challenge is getting people through the front door - sometimes need to create different front doors - Bath theatres a case in point. Opportunity to make different space feel ‘right’ for different audiences - possibility of making a strand of work specifically aimed at teen/young adult audiences to sit alongside the more familiar programming - Main House/Studio differentiation. However some concern about this ‘silo’ approach - can't we approach this by making work that is avowedly cross-generation in its appeal - adults bringing kids / teenagers bringing their grandparents.

As well as perceived barriers in architecture/welcome, there's the whole question of conventions/protocols that feel owned by an older generation because they are in some way handed down - how about making a space where these are suspended and populating it with work that is OK with this. OR put in place some mechanism whereby the traditions/protocols can be handed on in a non-threatening way. Use the the youngest part of the theatre's workforce to do this?

Discussion of links between participation and the development of attending - a clear sense that this is often an entry point for kids/young people but awareness that there may be lots of missed opportunities to make the links. Associated problem with theatres making work happen outside the building - lots of new young ‘audiences’ but limited success making people aware of connection to theatre, let alone turning this into attendance fro these groups.

Some discussion about whether loyalty comes with age - we shouldn't expect to be creating a ‘loyal’ young audience - but a feeling that having good formative theatre-going experiences are a crucial foundation to building theatre-going habits in later life. If ‘ownership’ is a GOAL of good marketing, then it's vital that theatres foster ownership of an organistion that seeks to appeal to a diverse audience - getting the messages right!

Disagreement about the success/usefulness of FREE ticket schemes - part of the

habit that needs to be communicated is that attending an arts event costs and it is worth it!

Back to governance/management - how about setting up Youth Board or Stering Group - link this to a policy of handing the reins of the building to young people periodically - ‘guest editors’ - York & Manchester examples.

None of this is going to happen quickly so don't worry - aim for where we want to be in 10 years time!

Can a theatre be simultaneously ‘Posh’ and ‘Underground’? - some of the groups younger contributors spoke about their appetite for experimental, political, small work and that the New Vic seemed too ‘posh’ to be interested - although they'd never asked the question - powerful preconceptions!

The conversation also took in the associated challenge of theatres that have an established/establishment audience struggling to appeal to non-theatre literate audience. There was mention of how the documentary traditions of the New Vic have lead to this building having a more socio-economically diverse audience now.

Opportunities for people to ‘see themselves’ on stage often a starting point for attendance but it takes longer to build attending habits.


programming, Audiences, governance, Audience, Access, audiences, Young People, access, audience, barriers, ownership, young people, marketing, Programming