Why Theatre Needs To Be More Affordable For Families
A few weeks ago, my son took part in his first dance festival. As I could have predicted, he loved it from beginning to end, and this is no doubt why his teachers at school picked him to take part. He is very outgoing and loves anything musical and it’s wonderful to see him expressing himself in this way. As a mother of three children, I am trying my best to expose them to any and all art forms, especially live theatre….. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive.
The first ‘big’ production we went to as a family of 5 was Barnum at our regional theatre. It cost over £220 to get tickets for seats where I knew the children would be able to see easily. Not long after that, Wicked also toured, but having already paid out all that money, there was no way we could afford that again. When War Horse arrived, knowing the cost was prohibitive, I ended up taking my daughter alone, meaning my two younger sons missed out on a truly incredible show. The same with Hairspray, and then again with Goodnight Mister Tom in London.
In February, a touring production of Joseph came to our local theatre. It was exceptional, and we all went, but we deliberated long and hard over whether to buy tickets. I am so glad we did but even so, at £160 for 5 of us, even local shows are not an affordable evening out. A couple of months ago, we went to see The Next Step– a Canadian dance group with a show that airs on CBBC. Now, technically the tickets were my daughter’s birthday present, but again, coming in at over £220 for five of us, it’s far more than we would ever usually spend. Whilst at the show, they announced a new tour coming in October. Guess what? Yes, £226 for five tickets yet again.
At a time when arts funding is being cut more and more in schools, and dance festivals such as the one my son took part in are only still going thanks to the lunchtime and after school dedication of a few teachers, it seems even more maddening that ticket prices are so extortionate. I do take my children to local events, shows, or exhibitions but the fact of the matter is, I want to expose them to as much of the arts as I can…and I can’t.
Sure. there are events such as West End Live, or even the kid’s week, where theatres offer cheaper tickets but you know what? It’s not enough. Last summer, my eldest daughter finished the Harry Potter books. She then watched all the films and lo and behold, a new Potterhead was born. Now, with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opening in the West End, it’s only natural that she would want to see it. It’s a two part play, meaning ten tickets in total if we were all to go. How can I take one of my children to something as monumental as that, and not the other two? Well, as it turns out, I won’t be taking any of them. There are no tickets available other than via the resell market, and at £400 for one show ticket this weekend, it seems as though I have a stark choice between keeping my house or watching a play. Even my mortgage payments are less than one ticket to both shows.
It’s the same on the other side of the pond, too. Hamilton has, rightly, become the most Tony nominated show ever, and is widely expected to sweep the board at the awards this weekend. The result? They’ve increased the price of their top rate ticket to $849. At today’s exchange rate, that’s £587. Really. For that price, I’d be expecting to take Lin Manuel-Miranda home in a goody bag afterwards. Of course, Hamilton spins it, by pointing out that they’ve increased the number of $10 lottery tickets available to 46 at each performance. How about you try queuing on the street for hours with three children and then telling them they didn’t get in?
I can’t pay out to take my children to a ballet one month, a musical the next, and a play two weeks after that. I can’t give them access to all the theatre I would like to, because I do not have the extra money it would require. We are lucky though; we can afford maybe three or four shows a year. Other families can’t do that, and kids suffer because of it. Lessons are expensive too; I looked at enrolling all three of my children in a theatre school and it would be £185 a term (there are 6 terms a year). Money we do not have….but they will not get any arts tuition in school.
Exposing children to the arts opens them up to a world of pure joy. It teaches them valuable skills such as teamwork, reliability, thinking of others, dedication, discipline. It also gives them another opportunity to express themselves, to escape into a wonderful world of fantasy, where knowing how to do long division or being able to identify past progressive tenses doesn’t matter. Our schools are becoming more and more academic, the pressure placed on children as young as five is almost insurmountable. How wonderful it would be to have an outlet, be it through dance lessons, watching a musical, or seeing in a play. Sadly, because of the greed of theatres, that’s just not to be.
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