Welcome to Kids Week.
One of the problems of marketing theatre for children is that the consumer doesn’t buy the
ticket. The child rarely chooses what to see. The advertising has to be aimed at parents,
grandparents or teachers, most of whom will tend to be conservative in their choices.
ensure a successful theatre visit they will play safe – a title they have heard of, a play they
remember with pleasure from their own early experience, or a big budget family
blockbuster from Disney or Cameron Mackintosh.
Panto prospers because of its traditional popularity handed down from generation to generation. Original plays, even those
presented by well-known flagship companies like Unicorn or Polka, are often regarded with
suspicion. Adaptations of famous books offer parents and teachers more security. I once
said, with flippant frustration, that it would be possible to put on a scratch production of
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS with two bad actors and a ferret and it would still attract big
But those of us who create theatre for children recognise that we will have no audiences at
all if we don’t manage to attract the attention and patronage of adults. This is why I applaud
Kids Week, the annual promotion organised in the West End by the Society of London
Theatre. Kids Week actually lasts a fortnight. This year it runs from August 15th to
Thirty or more productions – plays and musicals as well as children’s shows – offer
free tickets for children up to the age of sixteen. Yes, an accompanying adult has to pay, but
the children are offered a free chance to ‘suck it and see’. Not only that, producers offer
them the opportunity to take a peek backstage, see how things work, meet the actors, learn
to sing and dance, to stage-fight or experiment with make-up, as well as to eat free at a
range of London restaurants and even travel and stay in a hotel free.
What I really like about the scheme is that not only do the kids get a good deal, but it also
encourages producers, actors, theatre managers, musicians, choreographers, back-stage
crews – in fact everybody in our industry – to think about children, to take them more
seriously, to recognise how vital it is to get them interested in the theatre, and how
important they are both now and in the future as they grow up into the adult audience of
Hopefully Kids Week will become a model for regional theatres and civic venues. Similar
initiatives should mushroom all over the UK. And it’s not charity or philanthropy; it’s good,
solid, hard-headed marketing. Many adults, attracted by the ‘child goes free deal’, will be
encouraged to come to the theatre for the very first time. They will pay for themselves (and
pay half-price for any other children they bring), filling seats that may have otherwise
remained empty. And it’s great that even the sell-out shows offer free tickets too, so
nobody can cynically say it is only the struggling shows that join in. Hopefully these new
theatregoers will return, making Kids Week a real investment for the future.
I must declare an interest. My daughter, Katherine Wood, is one of the organisers of Kids Week. And I’m delighted that my new show, thanks to producers Nick Brooke and Kenny Wax, will be participating. THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA , based on the classic picture book by Judith Kerr, will be at the Bloomsbury Theatre from August 27th – 30th, followed by a long tour.
For more information on Kids Week, go to www.kidsweek.co.uk.
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