On any given night there are unsold seats in performance venues across Sydney. What if those seats were sold to high school students at an affordable price so they could have an unforgettable experience of the arts? That’s exactly what the City of Sydney is aiming to do with its proposed new ‘Theatre Passport’ scheme.
“Throughout our extensive community consultation for the City of Sydney’s Cultural Policy and Action Plan, we heard time and again that young people wanted more opportunities to connect with affordable culture,” said Lisa Colley, manager of cultural strategy at the City of Sydney.
“Of the many ideas presented as a solution, Adelaide’s Theatre Passport Scheme was one of the most celebrated.”
From the late 70s to the early 90s this successful program allowed students to buy a ticket from around five dollars from a pool of unsold seats made available by South Australian theatre companies.
“The big picture behind a program like this is about building a culturally vibrant and creative city,” said Colley. “It’s also about building a culture of empathy and understanding.”
For many of us, early exposure to theatre, dance or music nurtures a lifelong love of the arts. The theatre is a place where young people can build the muscles of compassion, practice listening and engage with people who are not like themselves. At any age, the performing arts can challenge us to empathise and understand each other.
As part of the City’s Cultural Policy and Action Plan, the City is seeking to support a culturally engaged creative entrepreneur, organisation or consortium to deliver a program that offers high school students affordable tickets from unsold seat stock in Sydney’s cultural venues.
“We have a small amount to invest, but a really big ambition,” said Colley. “We can only do this in partnership with an organisation who has the expertise and shares our vision.”
The proposed ‘Theatre Passport’ scheme aims to supplement education programming, concession ticketing or other initiatives that theatre companies already provide for young people.
This sector-building initiative comes off the back of a recent program, Art Money, which was also initiated through the City’s Cultural Policy. Art Money, now a national program, makes buying art easier and more affordable by providing interest-free loans to art lovers.
Through Art Money, the City has seen how a small investment can realise a large ambition. The City hopes they can find the right partners to make the ‘Theatre Passport’ scheme equally successful.
“We supported Art Money by providing one off seed funding to 10 Group, the team behind Art Money. We also contributed research into similar schemes operating locally and internationally. We knew a similar Tasmanian program worked, but we didn’t know if it could be replicated in Sydney. Happily, Art Money has been a great success.”
The City has conducted market research for the ‘Theatre Passport’ scheme to see if there is demand.
“The numbers are promising,” added Colley. “It’s estimated that between 11,000 and 20,000 high school students could access this program over the course of a year.”
Colley said the right provider for the ‘Theatre Passport’ scheme will need to know how to market to young people, understand the technology required for promoting and selling tickets and have insight into how Sydney’s cultural institutions work. But she’s open to ideas as to how to make the program a success.
“This is about building the audiences of the future. It’s time to encourage the next generation of interest.”