It IS possible.
I’ve been meaning to do this post for months. I love the theatre and used to go quite a lot in my early twenties as a English Literature and Classics post-grad (especially with the £10 Travelex tickets at The National Theatre – which rose to £15 but sadly finished its run this year after 10 years) but I have noticed recently that prices have become astronomical. This is not to say that the staff/actors/directors/producers don’t need to be paid a decent wage (and I know that a lot of tickets often include a historical building levy, which is crucial, too. There is a really interesting piece here which gives a breakdown on why tickets cost what they do – but pre-warning you have to login to read) but looking around on a recent theatre trip, I couldn’t help but feel that the audience wasn’t particularly diverse and I had a huge response on social media to this.
But I also wanted to do this properly, so we got in touch with theatres up and down the country and asked what they were doing to appeal to younger audiences, how they were helping people with lower incomes still be inspired by theatre and culture and what they were doing towards more inclusivity both onstage and within audiences. And then you, my lovely readers also sent me a lot of info about charities and sites that were helping towards this cause. The main positive I took away from this research is that most theatres know this is an issue and are really making accessibility a huge priority, which is exciting.
This week, we have compiled a list of tips and tricks for big theatres and schemes (mainly in the West End) that can help you source affordable tickets, unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be one place to help you across the board (which makes me think this is a site that I need to set up! But alas: time). And then next week we will compile a list of individual theatres across the country and their specific tips and schemes, which will give you a feel of what each theatre is really doing to bridge this divide.
Sign up to Theatre newsletters
I know, it seems obvious but I didn’t realise how few I was actually signed up to! Here, you will be the first to hear about tickets being released, special deals, cheaper preview nights – but you WILL need to be quick. Also: follow the theatres you like on social media, I used to be all about aesthetics on the gram but now I use it for information and almost as a search engine – it can show teasers for shows coming up or talks in the works which you can add to your wishlist.
Add these sites to your favourites
Love Theatre – for West End and London deals.
Black Theatre Live – celebrating diversity and promoting predominantly POC produced and acted theatre.
TodayTix – West End shows in advance and last minute.
Manchester Theatres – what’s on in Manchester but also frequently discounted ticket sales.
TheatreMonkey – West End ticket deals – not the chicest layout but it does also have a guide to seating plans in London theatres, and what tickets/seats to avoid.
Cheap Theatre Tickets – a useful site in its own right, but it also has a dedicated section to Student and under 25 memberships (most of them free) that offer £5 tickets etc.
Upper Circle – a great site for new shows and reviews, as well as updates on when there are great deals on offer for certain shows. They have also created a popular Facebook group for sharing theatre deals.
Do last minute deals
Obviously, this won’t work for a lot of people but most West End shows & theatres offer tickets that are released in the morning for that evening’s performance generally at a cheaper rate. Usually available in person from the box office only.
Some West End shows have lotteries that you can enter on-line or in person for tickets as cheap as £10. Check out the show’s websites for information. A few current lotteries include Hamilton (for £10 tickets), Matilda (for £25 tickets), School of Rock (£20 tickets) and The Book of Mormon (£20 tickets). For touring shows, there are often similar schemes in place but you’ll have to research for each show (‘The Book of Mormon’, for instance, offered £15 front row tickets drawn at random for their limited run in Manchester).
Find your local cinema screenings
Did you know you can watch a lot of incredible stage performances via the cinema? I had heard of it but was so surprised by how many people have recommended this to me and was so impressed when I looked into it. The Odeon show theatre, small independent films as well as live shows like The Northern Ballet’s ‘Dracula’ for halloween across the country, with wheelchair accessibility. You can also see shows such as ‘Present Laughter’ with Andrew Scott at Vue cinemas across the country, as well as Fleabag (via National Theatre Live). Pros to this are not only pricepoint but a friend has told us that sound is much clearer, too!
This is a famous ticket booth at Leicester Square run by The Society of London Theatre, a non-profit seller of last minute & discount tickets. Tickets can only be purchased in person for same day, tomorrow & next day tickets. Their website lists all shows and prices so you can check what’s on sale before you go to the booth.
Sit somewhere different
‘Cheap seats’ doesn’t always mean they’re the worst. Shakespeare’s Globe still sells hundreds (700, to be precise) of £5 standing tickets for every performance (and this price hasn’t gone up since I worked as an usher during my uni days!). Granted you can’t actually sit (and trust me you can’t – my job used to be to get people to stand back up when they tried! Health and safety reasons, mainly) but it’s a great way to see a show often out of your price bracket and you can get really get ‘up close’ to the acting (and if it’s not great, you don’t feel so guilty leaving early). Restricted viewing tickets are often not as restricted as you may think, and usually you can search online for the seat plans and read reviews of the restrictiveness (Seat Plan has online reviews of seats).
Every year, during the school holidays, you can access free kids London theatre tickets when you sign up to Kids Week via this link. Tickets sell fast but you can access 1 free child’s ticket with each full priced adult ticket purchased.
Buy Off Peak
Friday and Saturday night performances tend to be the most popular times to go to the theatre. If you have time off during the week do compare prices of a matinee or mid-week evening performance against the Friday/Saturday prices. They are usually less expensive.
Big venues, smaller shows
Lots of big theatres have smaller shows at part of their offerings, we have just bought tickets for ‘A History of Water in The Middle East’ at Royal Court theatre for £15, by the brilliant writer Sabrina Mahfouz, but it’s at the upstairs theatre of the Royal Court rather the main auditorium (where tickets can cost as much as £95). Often, these are the shows that support new talent, which is just as exciting. Big theatres also offer workshops and talks with actors, directors for a fraction of the cost of a show, too.
Book as a group
Plenty of theatres offer discounted tickets for group bookings (usually 6-8 minimum), so call the box-office & see what they can offer – but this can vary.
See a Preview
A lot of theatres offer discounted tickets for preview nights (The Old Vic has a £10 Preview mailing list, for example), the show might not be quite ‘finessed’ but it is an opportunity to see something great for much cheaper. Obviously, there is more room for error at these previews but we once saw a dress rehearsal The Old Vic with Stephen Mangan in ‘Table Manners’ and it was such a different way to enjoy theatre. Seek out the shows and theatres individually or sign up to newsletters. Sites such as The Audience Club ask for a small membership fee (which goes to charity) in which to gain access to preview shows – but it is currently full until 2020!
Check for Charity Status
From doing this research, we would say that those theatres with charity status are the best for cheaper tickets, so if you were to look for theatre tickets in, say, Leeds, it would be a good idea to first hunt down a theatre with charity status & start there. Obviously these are also the theatres doing the most with regards to community engagement and schemes to increase diversity, so you would also know that the money you pay for your ticket helps to support this.
Support your local theatre venues
A lot of our tips are for West End shows as these are often the theatres who can afford to PR and get the word out but it goes without saying the importance of supporting your local independent theatre venues – there is so much theatre all over greater London (I can really recommend the Soho Theatre for a smaller, central London venue and tickets are from £11) and the UK, as well as fringe shows (we saw a play by Clean Break Theatre Company – definitely look them up as they are doing amazing things – last time we were at Edinburgh, who are about to put on a play at Donmar Warehouse), plus independent theatre companies touring different venues, talks and events. And often this is where the most innovative and relevant works are being performed, and you don’t pay a premium for ‘celebrity’ actors, and instead you have the potential of seeing an actor before they become famous. Here are just a few of the great Fringe festivals happening across the UK:
Brighton Fringe May
Plymouth Fringe May/June
Bath Fringe May/June
Barnes Fringe Festival June/July
Guildford Fringe June/July
Reading Fringe July
The Camden Fringe July/August
Edinburgh Fringe August
And finally we wanted to share just a few organisations and charities we came across doing amazing things towards affordable tickets and diversity:
This charity is open to anyone age 15-23, but is also especially dedicated to those who are disadvantaged or have additional needs. They organise trips for Secondary State School children to go to the theatre/musicals/opera as a group for £5 each across London shows (such as Harry Potter, Small Island and SWEAT!), as well as other events (such as ‘club nights’ where they offer tickets to a show at an exclusive rate plus Q&A with the cast and/or creative team).
By signing up here, members receive a fortnightly email with additional offers from other theatres, too.
Black Ticket Project
An initiative that provides young black people with free tickets to theatre shows across London. The project partners with several theatre organisations such as Battersea Arts Centre, The National Theatre and Bush Theatre to create more opportunities for young Black audiences.
Ramps on the Moon
A movement calling for more inclusion of Deaf and Disabled people within the theatre. Ramps on the Moon brings together six national theatres (and co-created by Graeae, who directed the closing ceremony of the Paralympics ceremony at London 2012) and is striving towards more representation in theatre as well as in the audience (I was actually messaged about this fantastic site via a reader who works in theatre, and whose jobs it is to make sure these needs are met and theatre is accessible to disabled and deaf people).
An amazing scheme designed to help young, underprivileged people get into the Arts industry in general, including theatre. You can sign up to get a mentor in the industry, donate or sponsor someone’s mentoring scheme, or if you have skills that you think could be useful and have an opportunity to teach someone, you can also sign up to be a mentor.
I hope that has offered a bit of positivity in how theatres are working towards accessibility – I will follow up with a post on what individual theatres (across the country) are doing, soon.