Audience development in the arts is a relatively difficult topic to find comprehensive data from which to compile a case study. The National Theatre, however, provides one of the clearer examples because of its status as an Arts Council national portfolio organisation and so has to implement a comprehensive audience development strategy and a certain level of clarity in its operation. The rhetoric of audience development and diversity runs through the NT’s ‘Vision’ and ‘Objectives’: ‘the NT is tireless in trying to reach more people, broaden our audiences and give them an unparalleled experience.’ The NT has been praised for its innovative and successful programs focused on audience development - the NT Live format is being mirrored by other organisations with the ticketing agreement with Travelex and the ‘Entry Pass’ initiative proving similarly successful.
• Established in 1963, the NT moved to the now famous Denys Lasdun designed brutalist building in the South Bank in 1976. It took over 100 years to establish a National Theatre after Effingham Wilson’s original 1848 proposal.
• Since then its produced over 800 plays - the first production was Hamlet starring Peter O’Toole.
• The building houses three theatres, yet outside of these the company tours extensively, hosts international productions, broadcasts through NT Live and is building its digital content.
• The funding awarded to the NT for 2014-2015 was £17,586,627. Each year they publicly release an Annual Report and Financial Statement.
• Yet, 65% of its income was from box office receipts.
• 2013-2014: there were 33 productions in the repertoire on the South Bank, 3149 touring performances in the UK and internationally and 10 new plays.
The expansion of National Theatre Live and the touring programme now means that more people in the UK see NT productions in local theatres and cinemas than the South Bank venue. In 2013-2014 the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year-olds has continued to be popular, with over 47 000 subscriptions. This initiative to encourage theatre-going in young people was furthered to workshops and events. Over 23 000 concessionary tickets were sold to disabled people and their companions for the South Bank productions. Further, the NT provided two sign-language productions,41 audio-described performances and 29 touch tours. These multi-sensory work continued extensively in touring productions.
One objective the NT employed to broaden and diversify their audience is the broadcasting of selected plays to cinemas across the UK and around the world. This was achieved in the National Theatre Live programme. The programme was launched in June 2009 and reached a worldwide audience of over 50 000 people within their first broadcast. The initiative received positive responses and at the end of the first season 200 000 people had attended a NT Live broadcast indicating an increase in audience reach by 25%. Over the years the NT decided not only to broadcast plays from their own theatre, but to collaborate with other British theatre companies like the Theatre Royal Plymouth or the Donmar Warehouse. In 2013/14, the NT Live programme has now reached a worldwide audience of 2.7 million since its launch.
In 2003 the NT formed a partnership with the foreign exchange company Travelex to provide a low-cost ticket scheme. This initiative enabled the NT to offer a great number of tickets for most performances for only £10. The Travelex ticket prices for the 2015 season increased to £15. With the help of this partnership the NT was able to attract audiences that normally could not afford the price of high quality theatre performances. Therefore, the initiative made the NT more accessible and open for a wider range of audiences. In 2013-14, 75 000 tickets were sold under the Travelex scheme and 25% thereof were first-time ticket-buyers.
Even though the NT already has a great variety of well-established projects targeted at audience development, the organization still inhabits an open outlook into the future. In June 2010 a project plan called NT Future was submitted. NT Future is an architectural project that aims at opening up the NT’s building on the South Bank to audiences, passers-by and the local community. The £80 million project is financed by both public and private funding. The refurbishment of the building enables a greater degree of transparency inrelocating digital archives on site, providing behind the scenes access with the Sherling High-Level Walkway and extending the Clore Learning Centre. The NT Future project is scheduled to be completed in 2015.
• As these examples demonstrate, the NT’s audience development strategy is targeted on reaching new and wider audiences. How do you think can the already existing audience benefit from this scheme?
• Considering the financial dimension involved in the NT Future project, do you think the NT could have used other strategies with less financial resources? Is money a necessary tool for developing audiences?
• What are the issues surrounding relatively inaccessible audience development information and data? Think about other factors as well as compromising potentially sensitive information.