GOOD PRACTICE Young, free and enjoying theatre
Kate Pakenham explains how the Donmar Warehouse’s free ticket scheme can ensure more young people access shakespeare’s finest works
Since their inception, Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Shakespeare productions for the Donmar have asked vital questions about ownership of Shakespeare and access and inclusion on our stages and in our audiences. With her landmark production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar in 2012, we launched the hugely popular £10 Front Row scheme which opened up the Donmar to a new generation of first-time visitors. In 2014, we took Henry IV to East London’s Mulberry School for Girls as part of a major education and out- reach project around the production. The Shakespeare Trilogy at King’s Cross, in which we will revive these two productions and stage a new one of The Tempest, is the next step in this four-year mission. Inspired by the enthusiasm of the young people who have seen these productions to date, to accompany the Trilogy, we are launching a new Donmar access initiative, YOUNG+FREE, which will make 25% of Trilogy tickets free to 25s and unders.
We’re living in a London where half our young people don’t attend a theatre, a museum or a music event each year, and where the cost of living makes price a genuine barrier to entry for many. As an organisation, we also believe passionately in the power of great theatre to change lives. Our commitment with the Trilogy to make a quarter of all tickets free to young people is unprecedented in its scale for the Donmar.
Over 6,000 young people are currently signed up to the YOUNG+FREE list and the first ticket release on Friday 2 September was enormously popular, with tickets being snapped up in under 15 minutes. More tickets will be released each Friday at 10am until December, ensuring rolling access to tickets throughout the run.
As part of YOUNG+FREE, the Donmar’s education and outreach programme will also enable 2,300 students from targeted London state schools to see these productions. Alongside these free tickets are creative projects and free workshops, targeted at schools, youth groups, community centres and organisations working with young people at risk of offending, designed to inspire and empower young people with limited experience of Shakespeare performance.
YOUNG+FREE has already garnered significant support from the cultural community, in London and beyond, with many high-profile figures becoming Ambassadors. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has given the scheme his backing, saying of YOUNG+FREE “All London- ers should benefit from the fantastic cultural riches our capital has to offer. I’m delighted that this scheme will bring young people and world- class theatre together in the heart of our great city.” Meryl Streep has also given the initiative her full support, saying “Who owns Shakespeare? We all do. I am thrilled to be supporting this extraordinary project from the Donmar”.
But this is about more than giving away free tickets and YOUNG+FREE in itself is only half the story. We have been able to launch the scheme thanks to a combination of sponsorship from Delta Air Lines and generous philanthropists, who have funded the first 20% of these tickets. In order to
reach our 25% target we have invited the public to make up the final 5% by buying a £20 YOUNG+FREE ticket and paying forward the value of a ticket to enable a young person to ex- perience these productions.
The Donmar needs to raise a larger percentage of its turnover through private sources than any other theatre in the UK. Staging the Shakespeare Trilogy and launching YOUNG+FREE are no exception. We are able to de- liver this ambitious programme of work only through the support of our sponsors, philanthropists and other partners. Pay It Forward is a unique way of extending that mission to our audience at large, and engaging the wider theatre-going community in our aim to democratise access to theatre. We hope that YOUNG+FREE will inspire seasoned theatre-goers to Pay It Forward, and we hope that young people, inspired by their generosity will walk through our doors to experience these productions.
For the Donmar, the Shakespeare Trilogy at King’s Cross and YOUNG+FREE represent a major investment in the future of our audience. Pay It Forward is an opportunity for our more familiar audiences to play an active part in this. We’re immensely grateful to everyone who has contributed to Pay It Forward to date and hope many others will be- come part of a scheme which makes it easy for anyone to be part of the joyful and generous act of supporting future theatre audiences.
With their dynamism, energy and boldness, the three plays in the Shakespeare Trilogy are the perfect produc- tions for young audiences to experi- ence theatre. YOUNG+FREE is a gift to these young theatre-goers and a celebration of the power of theatre to empower and inspire.
Kate Pakenham is executive producer at the Donmar Warehouse