The recent Child Friendly Leeds awards sparked inspiration for me to write this article.
The awards ceremony celebrates Leeds’ most inspirational young people, as well as people and places that are dedicated to making the city child friendly.
Amongst the winners were Life Experience, a social enterprise that shares real life experiences through drama and poetry to encourage young people to avoid crime and drug addiction. White Rose/Trinity also won an award for creating great family friendly events and activities.
Encouraging youths to take part in the arts is exceptionally important. It allows people to express their ideas and have a ‘safe space’ to share creativity. It’s a huge confidence builder and connecting with other creatives eventually evolves into a great network of like-minded people to socialise with and learn from.
But when it comes to young people attending professional productions… is it viable? Is it accessible?
I love musicals, and I’ve been going to the theatre for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate enough to have a family with both the passion and the finances to take me along to the theatre regularly, which sparked my love of the arts. But there’s no running from it – theatre’s expensive, and for young people it’s bound to be a barrier. Cost effective alternatives like community theatre are great, but the shows just aren’t the same standard.
So what’s the solution? I think it would be cool to run ‘under 25’ nights, where certain rows are particularly cost effective. Opera North runs a similar scheme for under 30s and I think this really helps encourage younger people to try something new. Designated young people nights would also avoid ‘regular’ theatre goers being potentially disturbed by mobile phones and fidgeting teenagers. I’ve often sat sandwiched between school parties and it’s an absolute nightmare – some of them just can’t sit still and, if you’re paying full whack for a ticket, it’s not fair to have your experience spoiled by younger people who just haven’t learnt the theatre etiquette yet.
The industry needs to start focusing its energy on the up-and-coming generation, both from a digital viewpoint and better accessibility and diversity. Forward thinking theatres like Leeds Playhouse work hard to engage every corner of the Leeds community which is great – but what about the kids who have never stepped foot inside a theatre, and have no intention of doing so? Making the theatre a welcoming place for all, whilst retaining the need for theatre etiquette, is a tricky challenge but one we can expect to see the industry working towards.