Elizabeth Logan is a 17-year-old writer and theatre A-level student from Manchester, UK. Armed with ambition, and a place on the Royal Exchange’s Young Company Writers scheme, she plans to forge a career in the creative industries – here she explains what you can do to get more young people like her through your doors.
For a long time, I was one of those people who thought going to the theatre was just for well-spoken Downton Abbey types with long silk gloves and monocles (if you’re one of those people, don’t be offended – I’m sure you look and sound amazing). But thanks to a compulsive interest in becoming a writer and a few really good drama teachers, I got into reading and going to see plays in my teens. But I couldn’t (and still can’t) convince any of my friends to come with me to see plays (unless they’re die-hard theatre fans or there’s an actor they fancy in the cast, more on that later).
As a young theatregoer, I’m aware that I’m something of a mythical creature, and yet I wholeheartedly believe that theatre can do so much more than TV or film. So how do you attract more young adults like me to watch your boundary defying productions and titivating revivals?
From where I’m standing it seems the theatre world needs to stake out its place in the 21st century to ensure it’s survival as a physical space by 2050.
‘Why shouldn’t you be allowed to fangirl over your favourite actor while watching some high-quality drama?’
Cast big names
This is something that’s happening more and more often in West End and Broadway shows, with popular actors featuring in both classic productions (the last year alone gave us Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet and Kit Harington as Doctor Faustus) and more modern works (such as Matt Smith and Lupita Nyong’o starring in acclaimed new plays on the West End and Broadway respectively).
All these actors have a pre-existing young fanbase, who regularly turn out in droves to see their favourite actors treading the boards.
While the more elitist theatre fans among you might see this as pandering to the lowest common denominator, I see it not only as a way to put proven actors in great roles, but a way to open up the theatre world to people who might not have been exposed to it before.
Why shouldn’t you be allowed to fangirl over your favourite actor while watching some high-quality drama? I know a girl who only bothered studying Hamlet for her exam when she saw the National Theatre Live version starring Benedict Cumberbatch
And when big theatres are reviving the classics, they could do worse than to cast A-listers, and make the classical canon more accessible for young adults who would otherwise feel alienated.
Offer [even] cheaper theatre tickets
Obviously not every theatre is able to cast TV stars, but there are other ways for smaller theatres to bring in a younger crowd. One of the main barriers that has stopped theatre reaching the average person this past century is the cost.
Think not just in terms of ticket costs, but the associated costs of transport and food and drink around theatre districts, which especially around the West End and Broadway, can be astronomical.
Smaller theatres or more regional venues can really come into their own here, by putting plays on at more affordable prices than their sterling counterparts, so long as the cast and crew get a fair wage and the overheads are paid.
Or opt for a democratic Pay What You Decide (PWYD) or Pay What You Can (PWYC) system (used at fringe performances worldwide and now at some leading venues, read the PWYD blog by ticketing experts Spektrix on the IAM blog here ).
Younger punters don’t often have the money to fork out for expensive tickets, and by promoting shows locally in universities, colleges and schools, theatres in smaller areas can create a theatrical experience unrestricted by location or income.
‘…theatre’s uncensored, spontaneous, raw nature makes it perfect to capture even the most reluctant teenager’s imagination and provoke conversation about otherwise difficult topics..’
Make theatre accessible to young people
There’s a reason why many great plays, from Romeo and Juliet to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, prominently feature teenagers. The teenage years are such a weird, confusing, tumultuous time for many people, and where better to explore the intensities and complexities of adolescence than somewhere as intimate and ever-changing as a theatre?
Likewise, quality theatre’s uncensored, spontaneous, raw nature makes it perfect to capture even the most reluctant teenager’s imagination and provoke conversation about otherwise difficult topics. Good theatre can make difficult topics accessible in a way that film and TV can only dream of, as seen in the recent runaway hit The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a play that depicted the intricacies of an autistic boy’s mind with startling clarity.
‘If we want to cultivate the next generation of playwrights, designers, directors and actors, and make sure the theatre remains the institution it is in the future, the theatre world needs to address the needs of young adults.’
But it’s not just big-budget spectacles that can get young people back into the theatre. Stripped-back works like Jack Thorne’s When You Cure Me, a play set entirely in a teenage girl’s pokey bedroom, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, an intimate romp through one maladjusted twentysomething’s life told entirely in a one-woman monologue, can be just as penetrable and intense, if not more so, than their showy counterparts, and address issues pertinent to young adults’ lives in an intimate and atmospheric setting that on-screen drama struggles to replicate.
Theatre shouldn’t be elitist, and it shouldn’t be closed off to younger people. In this age of on-demand entertainment, it seems so easy for the theatre industry to abandon the young adult market entirely.
If we want to cultivate the next generation of playwrights, designers, directors and actors, and make sure the theatre remains the institution it is in the future, the theatre world needs to address the needs of young adults. Even if it means casting film stars, or, heaven forbid, making the ticket prices a bit more reasonable.