Thursday, 23 February 2012

Ticket to Ride

It was announced this week that a quarter of children in this country have never been to the theatre. Of the 2,000 parents surveyed, 25% declared that their children, aged between 6 and 12 hadn't attended a theatre. 60% hadn't attended a classical music concert and 40% hadn't been to an art gallery. Now, to be fair, I'm not sure if I'd attended a classical music concert before the age of 12. Although I quite liked classical music when I was younger, thankfully my parents realised there were a zillion things I'd rather be doing at the age of 10. Like making epic compliation tapes and practicing my signature for when Leonardo DiCaprio finally decided to ask me to marry him.

But I realise I was very lucky when I was growing up. Firstly I had parents who considered it extremely important to ensure that I didn't just spend my days moping around the house. Many weekends were spent travelling around the country going to museums, seeing shows or getting lost as we desperately tried to find an ancient ruin in the times before sat navs had been invented. I lived in a city where there was plenty going on plus I was an only child growing up in the 80s and 90s so everything was that bit cheaper. And that leads us beautifully to the reason why children are growing up seeing less theatre and that's because it's so bloody expensive. I am pretty sure there are plenty of parents out there who would love to be able to take the little mini versions of themselves to see all the wonderful things there are out there but their budget just won't allow them to.

I thought I'd do some incredibly lazy, vague investigative type journalism to attempt to illustrate my point. So, imagine two lovely parents in Birmingham decide to take their two children to see the Saturday matinee performance of Matilda. Even if they go for the cheapest seats available which are £25.00 each, that's £100 just to see the show. They don't know London all that well so they decide to take the train there. The cheapest return available for them is £75. Right, so that takes us up to £175. If we then take into account however they get to the train station, underground travel when they get to London and the fact that they might fancy remortgaging their home so they can each have a sandwich and a drink at some point during the day then you're probably looking at a day trip that costs well over £200. Suddenly you can see why 25% of kids haven't been to a theatre before the age of 12. Of course, I realise that our little Birmingham family could attend something a little closer to home. Why not see Oliver! at the Birmingham Hippodrome this weekend? Oh yes, because four tickets for their Saturday matinee this weekend would set you back £170. I could fly to Rome and back for less than that. Maybe Birmingham family would like to forego their little theatre trip and pay for me to go on holiday instead? No. OK. Just a thought.

I realise that there are plenty of free things that parents can do with their children to ensure that they are culturally fulfilled little beings. We are exceedingly lucky with the sheer amount of museums and art galleries that this country has that are free to enter. Many an afternoon I have marvelled at the fact that I can kill a few hours in town by wandering around the National Portrait Gallery for absolutely nothing. But how many 6 years want to spend every weekend traisping around another museum? Sure, the Science Museum is a whole load of fun but after a few weekends even the most enthusiastic scientist is going to start getting a tad bored.

And why should it be that children are the ones that have to miss out? I'm aware of why theatres are having to put their prices up. As the cost of everything else increases, tickets have to go up in value to ensure that everyone can get paid and so the damn show can be put on in the first place. But if only an elite handful of people can then afford to attend then it hardly seems worth it. Instead we're just creating a world where the lucky few can still see these wonderful shows that are being produced while the rest of us remain blissfully unaware of what's going on out there. All we can do is bitterly read the dazzling reviews rather ironically written by someone who has been lucky enough to see the show for free. And I appreciate that there are schemes out there such as the under 26 one which encourages those under 26 to attend the theatre by giving them free tickets but is that really enough? It helps ensure that young people are still going to theatre but it's not allowing children to grow up being aware at just how wonderful the theatre can be.

I've realised that I don't know what the answer to this and this has basically been just me whinging away for a couple of paragraphs (yes, I know that's what all my blog entries are.) If I knew what the answer was then I would take great pleasure in camping out in every box office across the land until every theatre took note and stopped ticket prices being so depressingly expensive that just looking at a booking page makes me want to cry. But I don't know what the fair solution is. Because if we start cutting ticket prices then people stop getting paid and I don't want to write another blog about actors not getting paid. Of course, as soon as someone pays me to be in something then I'll stop worrying about this because I'll be back to defending the cost of ticket prices but for now, I'll be enjoying camping out on my little soapbox. If someone would bring me tea, biscuits and maybe a few theatre ticket vouchers then I'd be hugely grateful.

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