These young people today

Photo: ChrisAC, via Flickr Creative Commons license
Jake at A Younger Theatre asks “Why do young people not go to the theatre?”.  His view – if he’ll forgive me paraphrasing – is that its because it’s perceived as elitist and it’s elitist because it’s expensive: “To spend £35 on a theatre ticket is not a regular occurrence … Anything which is out of reach of your average young persons spending allowance is elitist.”

Jake’s post goes on to develop (as you’d expect from him) a more nuanced thesis around the need for education and expanded horizons beyond the West End, but I wanted to take issue with this first part of his analysis, because for me it really doesn’t work.  There are plenty of things that “young people” are willing to pay for which shouldn’t be considered elitist: a football match (£50), X Factor Live Tour ticket (£32), Justin Bieber in Birmingham (£49)…  For crying out loud, the cheapest ticket to see JLS play in Bournemouth costs £28.50.  Now surely nobody, just nobody, would consider JLS (playing Bournemouth) to be elitist just because it costs close to £30?

This is backed up by the evidence that reducing costs for young people (Cf. A Life Less Ordinary) doesn’t increase interest or attendance from more young people – just that the young people who go to see theatre anyway get to do it for a bit less (which is fine, but a separate point).

In any case, theatre (with £10 tickets available to anyone at a raft of the better theatres in the capital) is significantly more egalitarian for those of any ages than, for instance, football, music or comedy.

The real reason why more young people don’t go to the theatre (and I say this as a huge supporter of the artform) is that it’s often pretty hard work and can be quite uninteresting at times.  We should remember that according to the Arts Council, only 23% of people go to the theatre as much as once a year – even amongst the adult population.  Lack of interest in theatre is not confined to young people – it is, and will remain, a niche interest.

The realistic aim should not be to move this number to 100% but ensure that those, particularly those young people who have an interest in theatre, aren’t priced out (as perhaps they are in New York with the astronomical ticket prices there) – but I don’t believe £35 seats are a barrier to youth interest in theatre any more than £28.50 tickets are to youth interest in JLS.