Free theatre ticket scheme had mixed results

Mackenzie Crook The scheme was backed by actor Mackenzie Crook

Related Stories

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.

Key findings

  • 500,000 tickets available
  • 396,687 tickets given away
  • The average participant used the scheme five times
  • 6,800 people attended the theatre for the first time
  • 36.6% of participants said they would not have gone to the theatre without the scheme
  • 72% of young people said cost was the main barrier to going to the theatre
  • 81% of participants said they were more likely would go to the theatre again
  • 41% of venues said the scheme had brought in extra money through the sale of extra tickets and merchandise

Source: A Night Less Ordinary evaluation report

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Is the BBC aware that the spell checker on HYS spells theatre the American way?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Did anyone stop and think that maybe ticket prices aren't the only cost?

    I am happy to pay £30 for two tickets to Warhorse even if I'm up in the gods, however the issue comes when I have to pay double that just to get to London and home again.

    When you are spending as much on transport as you are on the night out, it is incredibly off putting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I have a question: Theatre's fun and stuff, but why were they giving out tickets in times like this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Are ken and boris really publishing their tax details?
    Did they swear at each other?
    Were tickets sold?
    Does london need either of them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The real problem with Theatre is it's boring.
    You are sat in the dark surrounded by strangers in a chair that's too small wondering why you've bothered. Watching something that's slowly proving to be less interesting than most price comparison website commercials.
    It's competing with TV and Films with much higher production values that can be seen in the comfort of your own home for less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Probably the sneak effect on taxing people had an affect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Well that should give them hope for their future prospects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    It doesn't seem to have been well publicised.

    Maybe it was organised through schools ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    theatre will never give tickets away plain and simple.

    they are businesses after all

    government did this to encourage youngsters to go

    this is a good thing.

    i would rather government spent money on the people as opposed to spying on the people.

    but i agree totally that the theatre is too expensive and should look to perhaps halve its prices then i may have enough cash to go once in a while.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Anything that exposes the young to new and creative experiences is probably worth a try. Better still would be an education system that engenders creativity, critical thinking and provides useful skills, knowledge and well rounded emotional development as preparation for adulthood. Rather than this soulless one designed increasingly to provide work drones and consumers for corporate capitalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I used to go to the Theatre and I was very happy to pay for the tickets however, thanks to Local Governments cuts, I no longer have a job ( and I havn't exactly seen a increase in suitable private sector jobs as alluded to by the government). This obviously effects my ability to support the Arts along with many other worthy causes such as charities. Such is the brave new world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Theatre is for the well healed and is far too expensive for the everyday pocket. Surely it would be better to sell seats at the last minute for a fiver and fill the theatre than to have a half empty auditorium. This would enable young, old, middling, in fact everybody to enjoy the spectacle, and do something else like have a drink or use a nearby restaurant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The last time I considered going to the theatre I got as far as the box office and backed out when I discovered it was, yet again, a 'modern' version. (Just like the last two I had seen.)

    Given the price they charge for tickets I don't think a set and some costumes is too much to ask for when you are putting on Shakespeare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @Lemog #4. Did you actually read the article? It clearly says that 396,687 of the 500,000 tickets were used, leaving 103,313 unused - not 420,000 as you say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The mixed results didnt have anything to do with the fact that this is the first I've heard of it is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    A crazy waste of money. Might have known it originated from a Labour conference (=signal for all lefties to vote this down!) Theatres could just give unused tickets away. It's not the price that deters theatre-going; it's the pointlessness of so many "modern" productions and the luvvie-ness of the whole business. Note too the usual empty words: "sustainable legacy", "theatre experience". Please!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    4. Lemog

    It was Labours brainwave. The days before austerity when they just borrowed.

    Your quite right...the attendance/ticket available figures are a joke.

    But seriously....young people would not go to the theatre if you paid them.

    Dumb idea. Those who thought of it should be made to pay the taxpayer back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    So, in a time of austerity, £2.39m of tax payers money was spent giving free theatre tickets to "young" people. The article refers to 500K free tickets and goes on to refer to an estimated 80,000 people watching a production for free, that implies that 420K tickets were not used. What an utter waste of taxpayers money. I thought we were broke and living beyond our means?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Anything that can increase the opportunity to allow young people to experience theatre is oath a try. JamesStGeorge's idea on allowing free entry is worth thinking about but I wonder how it would be controlled (particularly for popular plays/shows).

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    What a stupid way to waste our tax money. They have empty seats they can let people in free, in the last hour before it starts, costs no one anything.


Page 2 of 3


More Entertainment & Arts stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.