Here at Lincoln Drill Hall we’ve reached the end of our first Pay What You Decide season of work. As the dust has settled and the 6 productions included have carried on their tours across the UK I’ve had a moment to sit and analyse the impact of our approach. Has it achieved what we hoped? Did we extend our audience reach? Is it a strategy worth persevering with?
Oddly Moving: He Ain’t Heavy
The initial answer is quite simply yes. Comparing this season of 6 shows to a similar season of 6 earlier in the year has seen some real growth. In the Spring/Summer season we sold 233 tickets in total with audience numbers ranging from 19 to 77. We made £1580 in sales for those tickets.
In this season of Pay What You Decide we ‘sold’ 433 tickets to the work and took donations totalling over £1700.00 achieving both of my main aims for taking this approach – more people seeing the work and maintaining the same level of income from donations as we had through traditional ticket sales. This season the work took place in a range of spaces, from our main auditorium to the Room Upstairs and in our café. We reached over 50% of capacity, a huge leap from previous numbers.
Dante or Die: User Not Found. Image Justin Jones.
That is a huge boost for us, but there were other positives too. The breadth of audiences increased, with more students from Lincoln College, The University of Lincoln Dance and Drama courses and local schools engaging with the work. We know that there were a small number of people who booked for the entire season of work, and I know from talking with some of them that they would have maybe chosen only one or perhaps two shows to go to had traditional ticket pricing been in place, because 6 shows at £12-£14 each wouldn’t have been affordable.
Through the season we continued to strengthen our new partnership working with the YMCA at the Showroom. One of the visiting companies undertook a Circus Workshop at their venue and the YMCA brought a group of young people to see a show exploring LGBT+ people navigating the asylum system. We also presented some of the work with Compassionate Lincoln, again making clear the remit that I feel the venue has to community engagement and development.
Maison Foo: A Thing Mislaid
For me Pay What You Decide is about bridging a gap. By which I mean a gap in what is on offer to audiences in the city. We are asking audiences to take big artistic leaps, to have faith and trust us when we place value in the contemporary performance we present here. We are asking them not to stay at home in front of the telly, or go and see a West End Musical that will be comfortable and familiar. We’re asking them to come on a journey to explore our society, politics, the world in which we live.
So as a programmer I’m placing a value on the passion and resources the artists are putting into making that work, for instance ensuring that fees are paid to those artists. There have been interesting conversations about whether by Paying What You Decide, audiences could be devaluing the work if they donate small amounts. I don’t agree. I think the art is devalued if the effort the artist has put into creating it, isn’t performed in front of more than 15-20 people. The experience for the show, the performers and the audience is devalued. Audience are already making a value call on a show with a £14 ticket by choosing not to come at all.
White Slate Theatre: Re:Production.
A bigger audience, donating at the end creates a better experience for all involved, thereby increasing the value of the art and the experience. Semantically you could call it different things; some use Pay What You Want – which I don’t think is really much different, or Pay What You Can Afford – which perhaps could be seen as stigmatising to those who perhaps can’t afford much. The wording can be played about with.
The crunch is though, that around 200 more people have experienced this work than probably would have done if they’d had to pay up front. That alone allows us to start building larger audiences for contemporary work, which in turn ensures that artists creating the work feel value.
And that’s why we’ll continue this strategy into Spring and Summer 2019. Between February and June there’ll be a further 8 productions presented as Pay What You Decide. Again there’s a real mix, from Mask Theatre to Indian Dance, from family circus to work exploring possible outcomes of a post Brexit world. All the details are on our website www.lincolndrillhall.com and tickets are available now.
Kev Fegan: Bess The Commoner Queen. March 2019.