Go Live Theatre Projects uses the power of theatre to create inspiring experiences for children and young people. We believe children and young people should have the opportunity to experience the life-enhancing benefits of theatre. For that reason, we support the Theatre for Every Child Campaign.
Sadly, too many financial, social and physical barriers stand in the way. Our mission is to change that, and since 1997, we have enabled over 250,000 children to see London’s world-class theatre. Our work targets schools with high levels of need, where there may be a high percentage of students on free school meals (FSMs), high levels of deprivation, a high percentage of students speaking English as a second language, and high levels of special educational or behavioural needs. We provide opportunities for young people, who, without our support, would be unable to visit the theatre because of high ticket costs, negative attitudes towards theatregoing and other barriers.
When it comes to engaging schools, there are additional challenges. The decline of arts subjects on the National Curriculum means that theatre trips are not always considered important enough to justify taking pupils out of the classroom. In response to this, we began to offer school theatre trips to evening performances, as well as matinees, so that dedicated teachers can still participate.
Through TheatreOpeners, our subsidised schools programme, we give pupils the opportunity to gain new perspectives, be part of a live shared experience and develop the social skills associated with theatregoing. They also gain valuable ‘cultural capital’ – a key part of Ofsted’s framework for judging the quality of education. Ofsted defines this as “the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.”
Schools participating in our TheatreOpeners programme have higher-than-average numbers of pupils receiving Free School Meals (FSMs). And when poverty and deprivation is so stark for schools and their pupils, the trips offered as part of TheatreOpeners can have a transformational effect. In 2022/23, only 15.5% of teachers said they would take their students to the theatre had they not received support from Go Live Theatre Projects – a situation exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. However, 98.5% of teachers rated the opportunity for their students to learn social and life skills through TheatreOpeners 5 out of 5. Similarly, 94% of pupils expressed a desire to visit the theatre again, following their trip – showing how just one positive experience can whet the appetite for more.
“The majority of students would not be able to afford to see a West End show and being in this unfamiliar environment was an invaluable social experience. This has inspired their career aspirations, which is incredibly important for a diverse but disadvantaged community such as ours.” – Teacher, The Urswick School
For Go Live Theatre Projects, TheatreOpeners is usually the first point of contact we have with teachers and pupils. It is a first step onto a pathway for young people to continue engaging with theatre in and out of school. While we lack data on this, we hear many anecdotes about how first-time theatre visits have inspired young people in the most positive ways, including their career choices.
And while some children are fortunate enough to experience the theatre with their families, many do not. The perception that theatre is for the white upper-middle classes is a pervasive barrier to theatregoing. A study by Dr Caroline Gardiner showed that the support Go Live Theatre Projects provides to families, the warm welcome from the theatres and the shared audience experience “helped re-shape expectations of a ‘posh’ theatregoing community and convince participants that the arts are indeed for all.”
This feedback from a teacher in Dagenham shows the importance of programmes like TheatreOpeners in creating opportunities to experience theatre: “Poverty is a barrier to widening [my students’] ideas and experiences of arts and culture. Go Live Theatre Projects has been an invaluable resource that has enabled so many children to access theatre that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see due to their social, financial or cultural background.” If children are not taken to the theatre by their family, because of financial constraints or negative perceptions, it becomes all the more important that they go with their school.
by Susan Whiddington, Chief Executive, Go Live Theatre Projects
Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre believe that every child has the right to experience and enjoy our country’s culture and world-leading theatre, so we will be asking political parties to commit to providing funding and support for our aim in their general election manifestos – that every child goes to the theatre by the time they leave school.
Find out more about our Theatre for Every Child Campaign at theatreforeverychild.org