THE TOMORROW PEOPLE

ENGAGING NEW AUDIENCES IS A PRIORITY FOR EVERY THEATRE COMPANY IN SYDNEY AND THE CITY’S NEW ‘THEATRE PASSPORT’ SCHEME IS ONE WAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN

Who doesn’t remember the first time they saw a live performance? It doesn’t matter whether it was a play, a concert or even a book reading; those formative experiences are what make the audiences of tomorrow. A consideration for the majority of venues and performance companies is how to reach out to young people, and provide a wide range of experiences to inspire their developing tastes.

The City of Sydney’s proposed new initiative, the ‘Theatre Passport’ scheme, is one way that performance companies and venues could establish new audiences while simultaneously ensuring capacity crowds. The City of Sydney is calling for Expressions of Interest from a potential operator to develop and run a scheme, which would involve selling unsold tickets at an affordable rate to high-school students. Not only would such a scheme utilise unsold seats, it is also seen by many in the industry as an investment in the future of the arts in Sydney.

“Making unused tickets available to young people is a great thing,” says Gill Perkins, General Manager of Bell Shakespeare. “And it makes sense. This audience wants something that’s convenient, they make last minute decisions on the spur of the moment, and this scheme offers them that opportunity. The affordable price also allows them to take a risk and try something they may not have considered was for them. It opens them up to new experiences and new worlds.”

Bell Shakespeare already have initiatives in place to attract young audiences, but according to Perkins, “more is more when it comes to engaging new audiences and we endorse and encourage bringing young people into the theatre and into the wonderful experience of live performance.”

It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by Karen Rodgers, General Manager of the Griffin Theatre Company. “When the idea was originally brought to us we were immediately very enthusiastic. We’re small, we only have 100 seats, but if there’s an empty seat – perfect, we’d love nothing more than having a high school student sit in it.”

Griffin has been running its Griffin Ambassadors scheme since 2004, where students are invited to a matinee performance of each main stage show and can take part in workshops with the artists. As a result, they know how effective engaging students is in terms of growing future audiences.

“We have evidence that our ambassadors come back to us as paying audience members,” says Rodgers. “Some have even come to work for us as interns, staff and we’ve seen many of them go on to work in the industry.”

The majority of Griffin’s Ambassadors are drama students, and where Rodgers sees the benefit in a ‘Theatre Passport’ scheme is in casting the company’s net a little wider. “We would love to grow the conversation we’re already having with our 100 ambassadors and engage a wider audience,” she says.

Perkins is also clear on the benefits of a program that targets high-school students outside of school hours. “Enabling further opportunities for students to explore live performance with their peers, outside of the curriculum, is a wonderfully stimulating experience – artistically and culturally.”