How do we get beyond "white, middle class lefties" as audiences and practitioners?

Gill Kirk, 1 July 2012

Attendees: Bob Havard, Lynda Rooke, Ali Robertson, Jesse, Amy Webber, Ian McGlynn, Rachel, David, Annette Chown, Kelly, Alison Farina, Carrie, Elizabeth, Allegra (?)

We came up with a range of questions, examples, and suggestions. I'll put Q, EG and S before each one and hope it makes for clarity...Questions do not necessarily have answers; examples aren't necessarily related to questions!.Anything else is background or context.

Q: are all new theatre audiences lefties? And trad stuff more right wing?

Q: does commercial theatre appeal more to all classes?

Q: how can we demonstrate the benefits of theatre to people who do not TRUST it, who feel unsafe, perhaps, in theatre spaces? Or who only see “going to the theatre” as an annual treat?

Relevant porogramming, colour-blind casting, inetgration of BME (black, minority ethinic) issues / cast will take at least 1 generation in 1 view, at least.

Q: You can programme “black plays” but how do you then get people to come back and see more stuff after that?

EG Stratford East have been consistent, developed momentum and gained audiemnce trust and that is how they have built up a BME audience.

Football and cinema easily compare in terms of price for tickets with theatre, so cost is not the only access issue.

EG Cheap ticket that are designed to encourage participation to non-traditional audiences are often sucked up by savvy middle classes.

But simply, if you programme things that people want to see, they will go and will tell others!

Q: what about the after-school gap? Those kids who don't have parents with London flats & cash to support them while they do internships for further artistic training or are poorly paid?

EG: The Prince's Trust rtuns a scheme specfically to support these kids, to give them a funding bridge that allows them to continue to develop a theatre acreer without having other sources of income.

EG The cost of higher education courses is also a problem - drama courses are falling by the wayside as funding falls for kids and institutions.

Q: do you leave your working class background behind you when you start to work in theatre? Is there a Billy Elliot syndrome at work (or Monty Python's “working class playwright” sketch)?

EG In Liverpool, they programme local shows for local people - the quality may not always be great but it has a loyal and strong popular following; it works.

Q: Is Bristol & its theatres too much of a London satellite to achieve this? Or is it happening ? (see below for a great EG of yes!)

EG Chris Harris at his pantos says, “this is your theatre” to the audience at the end and encourages them to come and see other shows.

It's about audiences not feeling out of place; about feeling this is a a space for them, that doesn't exclude or sneer at them; that you can't “get it wrong”.

EG the Hippodrome v Bristol Old Vic (for 1 example)

Q: are there too many shows for a narrow white, m/class demographic? Are companies missing an opportunity given all the people who are not being catered for?

S: venues need to demystify - eg great idea at Bristol Old Vic to remove their stage door, like at the Tobacco Factory. Remove barriers that are physical as well as unseen.

Q: is starting from grass roots the answer to widen participant and make relevant theatre that people want to see and feel they can access with confidence? Can community-based theatre be a “gateway” to “traditional”, building-based theatre that can be more challenging?

EG Tobacco Factory Theatre's DNA project uses schools as a performance hub for students & the community, working to remove 3 barriers: awareness, access and money

S: “don't miss out” is a message that theatres could be spreading - that theatre is great, fun, entertaining (v. “good for you”)
S: but quality must be paramount! If people like it and it is good, they will come!

EG Show of STrength here in Bristol do masses of community - based theatre and it sells out. Artists are paid, small profits are made and that goes into things like free shows for kids. It's not building-based (not a theatre buildings). Last shows were sold to family & friends of performers, and the next will see 50% of tickets sold through a newsagent. All very local. The next hope is that companies will come to them to ask them to “produce” / provide the venue and manage tickets.

Comfort is key - that gives people confidence and willingness to explore. They need to feel the space belongs to them.

EG: During the 2011 summer riots, the blackbedrry messages said “don't touch the hackney Empire” - kids had gained so much from their relationship with the tehatre they wanted to make sure it was not damaged.

S: theatres or ocnmpanies coudl make clear what tehater ettiquette they expect during a show (rtather than assuming the ausdience will know) - self expression frmo the audienmce is a class & cultuiral thing. Angry "ssshhhhh' es are intimidating and odff-putting

Q: has anyone ever run a show and offered 50% money bakc if you want to leave at the interval? (no-one had heard of it)

EG Bristol Museum had a night of short plays about exhibits a couple of years ago - v few people there knew it was there but were pleasantly surprised - THAT is an interesting gateway to theatre for those people.


quality, gender, space, equality, Bristol, access, participation, community, race, class, buildings, BME, age, cost, trust