Theatre for young people is arguably the most important work on stages across the country, writes Charlotte Nelson, as it inspires future actors, practitioners and creatives. But more than that, it creates the next generation of theatre lovers and improves prosperity for young people.
Currently, however, access to the art form is unequal. Children from low-income families are missing out the most because they are less likely to have access to cultural experiences outside of school. The ongoing cost-of-living crisis has also led to teachers and parents reporting a reduction in school trips of up to 68% compared to last year, which includes theatre visits.
Norwich Theatre is a key player in supporting the Theatre for Every Child campaign. We have joined other theatres in the Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre group in asking for politicians to commit to including in their manifestos that every child will attend the theatre before they leave school—a pledge supported by 84 per cent of parents.
Speaking about supporting the campaign, Stephen Crocker, Chief Executive and Creative Director of Norwich Theatre said: “We believe that every young person, regardless of where they live or their background, should have the opportunity to see live theatre.”
To proactively support those Norfolk residents and so that young people do not miss out during a cost of living crisis, Norwich Theatre has launched My Theatre, a scheme to provide those registered with the opportunity to secure seats for a wide range of shows at only £10 and with a range of further opportunities to access discounted and free tickets.
“This scheme will make live theatre comparable in price to visiting the cinema and opens up live performance to those for whom price might have been restrictive or who might not have thought of taking their family to the theatre,” said Stephen.
“By locking a percentage of our lowest-priced seats, especially for people registered on this scheme, we can go some way to helping live arts be accessible and affordable and potentially start a lifelong love of the theatre.”
Working with partners, The Wensum Trust, Norwich Theatre has been taking drama out into local primary schools with its ground-breaking Wise About Words project. The project embeds drama and storytelling into school culture, improving emotional wellbeing as well as literacy, communication skills, focus and memory in school children.
Stephen said: “The project aims to enhance teachers’ skills to confidently tell stories in the classroom and bring them to life. This project has had a positive impact in engaging children in the love of stories and reading for pleasure.”
This is something the Royal Shakespeare Company believes. Norwich Theatre is an RSC Associate partner and bringing Shakespeare’s work and storytelling to the region, including work with schools and adult communities. “Many of us have our first encounter with Shakespeare at school, and that experience can define our attitude to live theatre and to Shakespeare for the rest of our lives,” said Erica Whyman, previous RSC Deputy Artistic Director.
Their First Encounters productions are created to give seven to 13-year-olds a fantastic first experience of Shakespeare whilst also being brilliant introductions for anyone new to his work. Using edited versions of the original language, they bring the plays to life on stage in just 90 minutes.
Following the success of their sell-out Twelfth Night, the RSC brings First Encounters with Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet to Norwich Theatre Playhouse 16 – 17 February. The latest in the RSC’s series makes Shakespeare’s star cross’d lovers relevant for a new generation of theatregoers.
For Erica, First Encounters brings the thrill and excitement of Shakespeare’s plays to the next generation: “Most importantly, those schools and theatres are long-term partners with us here at the RSC, all working to ensure children and young people have vivid, accessible and memorable experiences of theatre and Shakespeare.”
Theatre should be and must be for everyone, and the earlier audiences are brought into its magic, the more they can experience and create themselves. As Juliet says to Romeo: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”
RSC First Encounters with Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet is heading to Norwich Theatre Playhouse between 16 – 17 Feb. For more information or to book, visit norwichtheatre.org.