Culture&Showbiz / Theatre

Theatre programmes less adventurous amid pressure to fill seats


Picture: Customers queue to enter the Grand Opera House in York.


Theatres are relying on the popularity of well-known musicals for funding, with abstract shows less likely to fill seats.

Many theatres throughout the North have musicals booked into their schedules, with the Sunderland Empire hosting Wicked and Shrek, the Newcastle Theatre Royal booking in Hairspray and the York Grand Opera House presenting Ghost the Musical and Thriller.

A report by former UK Theatre Director David Brownlee, found that ticket prices have risen by 5.5% across the country and 20.8% in the North East, as crucial theatre funding has been cut, leading to less adventurous theatre programmes.

The Grand Opera House in York does not rely on funding, but are required to generate funds solely through ticket sales.

Despite the Opera House not suffering from funding cuts, there is still pressure to fill seats.

York Grand Opera House’s Press Officer, Célestine Dubruel, said:

“Audiences are not always very adventurous when they go to the theatre, maybe the cost comes into that and they want to be sure they will have a good time.”

“The most popular shows are the well-known musicals, people want to come and have a laugh and enjoy the familiar music.”

As a result of the desire for guaranteed entertainment, musicals and pantomimes have seen a surge in popularity, whereas plays have suffered a drop in ticket sales.


Picture: Inside York Grand Opera House

Speaking about the price of tickets, Célestine Dubruel added:

“Being very aware of the financial situation for many people we have always aimed to keep prices as fair and affordable as possible.

“This is sometimes difficult when a show has a particularly large cast and is very expensive to put on.”

The fact that theatres are cautious about the productions they host has raised the question as to whether the funding pressures currently facing the performing arts industry limits the spectrum of shows on offer.

Picture: The audience await the hit musical, Les Miserables.

Picture: The audience await the hit musical, Les Miserables.

However, the need to fill seats is seemingly taking priority in what is a challenging time for theatres.

Philip Bernays (Chief executive of Newcastle Theatre Royal) told the BBC:

“Making the programme popular has increased attendances, so we have both put up prices and we have more people coming through the doors, and the two things together mean we have covered – and more – the loss of funding.”

The financial pressures facing theatres has also raised concerns as to whether the struggle for funding is hindering up and coming actors and actresses from fulfilling their dream.

Concerned by the struggle young people face in the performing arts industry, the National Youth Arts Trust (NYAT) charity was created.

Speaking about the situation, NYAT said:

“The performing arts are an integral part of the fabric of our society, but owing to economic circumstances, it has become increasingly difficult for young people from challenging backgrounds to fulfill their creative potential.”

Adrian  Lester, actor and NYAT patron added:

“The National Youth Arts Trust is filling a vital gap in arts education funding. When we look at our young artists we should ask how much talent they have, not how much money.”

Without the funding of groups such as the NYAT, it is likely that young people would severely struggle to break into the theatre industry.

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