Two weeks ago actress and writer Lolita Chakrabarti wrote an interesting piece in The Independent in which she described falling out of love with theatre.
In it, she talks of her own formative experiences that led her to fall in love with the art form and inspired her to train as an actress and to write, culminating in her acclaimed play Red Velvet being produced at The Tricycle Theatre. However she also talks honestly about how she loathes the exclusivity of modern theatre, the sense of entitlement and extortionate pricing that means many young people cannot afford to have the same experiences as her. It is an interesting piece I’d recommend you read.
It also got me thinking about my own formative experiences with live performance. I was first taken to the theatre in my early teens. Growing up in Leicestershire we often went to The Haymarket. I vividly remember a production of Joseph when I was around 12 that was emotional and wonderful right up to and including the chariot of gold that took the form of a Sinclair C 5. I attended many school trips, seeing Shakespeare, farce, drama and musicals as well as travelling further afield, (The Government Inspector in Nottingham and Dancing at Lughnasa in the West End). I was also lucky enough to be in the cast of professional productions at The Haymarket and The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry as well as in a charity gala evening at The Royal Albert Hall.
I too, was excited and thrilled by seeing the action right in front of my eyes, the innovation of what could be achieved on a live stage, but also how I simply felt happier and more exhilarated by the experience. These led me to train in Drama and Theatre Studies, a course from which I graduated 20 years ago this year. My first work after University was at Ticketmaster, and in the year I worked there I estimate I got to see shows worth about £2,000, (staff from agencies being invited to see the shows so we’d better be able to sell them was the theory). I would never have afforded to see these shows as a paying customer even at mid-1990’s prices. My next job was at The Prince Of Wales Theatre in 1995, where musicals such as Copacabana and Smokey Joes’ Cafe had prices of roughly £25-£40 (equivalent to around £65 today). A stark contrast to premium seats for The Book Of Mormon at the same venue on sale at £150.00, an all time high according to The Stage last week.
Just prior to Christmas my family took a trip to London to see Matilda, where tickets for the Sunday matinee cost £64.50 each. This is an unthinkable price to be paying on even a semi-regular basis for most people and it had me thinking about how future generations of young people would have those experiences that might lead to a career in live theatre whether on the stage or behind the scenes.
There are, I am sure many solutions offered up, but here is one. Support your local Arts Centre. For nearly a year now I have been running a multi-art form centre in Lincoln. We are based right in the heart of the city and venues like ours offer a breadth of productions and performances rarely offered in many traditional theatres in the West End and around the country. And above all it is local and affordable to a much wider number of people. The sheer range of the offer attracts a greater breadth of our population.
As an example, over the last week or so our venue has presented a literature talk with accompanying film, 2 shows by an up and coming magician, our monthly stand-up comedy night, a concert by young musicians from Lincoln, participatory youth theatre, craft sessions for toddlers, a dance class for older people, a production from a local school, a lunchtime classical concert, a sold out gig from Fairport Convention, an inventive circus theatre production and a vintage fair that alone attracted over 1400 people to the venue. The most expensive ticket for any of these events was £22 (for Fairport Convention, fair enough for a band of that quality). Tickets for everything else range from £7-£12, much more affordable and with some events free and others with discounts for students and under 16’s we can offer high quality arts experiences in an affordable and accessible way.
And that’s just part of what we do. We serve a wider community function as a place for meetings, workshops and music classes, reading groups and café, a haven where people can explore the arts and culture in a welcoming and safe environment.
I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t go to the theatre, they absolutely should, it’s still one of the most exhilarating experiences that you can have, seeing live performance unfold in front of your eyes. But don’t forget your local Arts Centre. A warm welcome awaits.