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School Arts

July 15, 2015

A reader reminded me a couple of weeks ago that the “Mousetrap Ticket Scheme” allowing teachers a free ticket to see selected West End shows has closed. An article in “The Stage” newspaper that week reported that school group visits to the dedicated children’s’ theatres the Unicorn are down 6% and the Polka Theatre now opens Wednesday to Sunday rather than Tuesday to Saturday as it is parents rather than schools taking children to the theatre. Oh, and “the arts” won’t be part of the revised national curriculum for schools either.

Some of this is really nothing new. At primary (elementary) level, we got a couple of “Theatre In Education” visits in the school main hall, and late on, one trip to the ballet. In high school, one theatre visit in 5 years. The only extra ones came in the sixth form when I formed a society and took a few groups to some of the big shows. Even then, it was teachers who were snapping up more than a few of the tickets.


At university level… nothing… and some friends admitted they wanted to see a play but were too intimidated to go into the theatre to buy tickets. And these were people who happily backpacked around the world.

Is any of this surprising? Not really. To get children involved in “the arts” really hasn’t changed over the years. If they are lucky, they come from “artistic” families where theatre and music are in the family home and imbibed (OK, cost is a factor, but there are a lot of very cheap means of obtaining tickets for young people, and do you need all those pay TV channels to rot your kid’s mind rather than improve it?).

At school, the child also does have to be lucky. First, with inspiring teachers to get them fizzing about English and Drama. Then to be in a school that elevates the arts to the status of sport. In my day (and now) there were prizes for achievement in sport – but write a great short story, or perform in a school play? You’d better be equally good at karate, is all I’m saying, and that’s if you are noticed at all.

Better than nothing are the few groups earnestly note taking for exams, sat in the stalls and seeing little beyond what they need to pass… plus a few badly behaved groups upsetting fellow theatregoers because they don’t have a clue about etiquette. Not surprising, as the escorting staff don’t either… they’ve never been to the theatre. Indeed, I have it on the best authority that a good few teachers have never seen a live Shakespeare play in full.


I’m afraid my own feeling is that very little can be done, even if there was any motivation to do so. Give away free tickets? It’s the best-informed who will get them, or else those who will come once, and never again. A sustained free season ticket may work – but once the need to pay kicks in? And of course, who pays the theatre?

You could drag every pig-ignorant teacher to a show – but the free scheme is gone, and if they are pig-ignorant anyway, what’s the point? Won’t pass it down to the kids.

Bring theatre into schools? Not the same thing at all. And for most kids, it will just be a chance to miss class / keep warm at lunch time, nothing more.

Accept the situation? Easy route. Let those who are lucky enough to find the path have it – it keeps the drama courses full in further and higher education, and keeps the “riff raff” out of the really good plays and great musicals they’ve never heard of or will see unless Hollywood does a re-make. Callous, and the current way things are going.

I don’t have a solution, I wish I did. All I want to say is that it was never solved in my own school time, and I don’t think it will be now. To end on a positive, though, in my school time the folk in the arts were saying theatre would be well gone by 20 years ago… it’s still here.

I think, in the end, things will continue along that path… but maybe they could work out just fine. Here’s hoping.

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