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By HELEN TIPLADY Deputy Creative Director

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been to the theatre. Or to a theatrical or live experience. Because surely everyone’s been to the theatre?

Whilst research shows that more people attend the theatre than football matches, for some stepping into a theatre is daunting. It can be perceived as a club for other people.

What are the rules? Is it like cinema? Can I go for a pee? What do I wear? What if I’ve got nobody to go with? What if I don’t like the show? These are the kind of questions we get asked.

Our goal is to make the experience of coming to the theatre one that everyone can enjoy. That’s why we try to answer these questions in our pre-show visitor briefings.

Behind the scenes of Swan Lake

Removing the barriers

There are many reasons some people haven’t yet made it through our doors.

Cost and convenience are the tip of the iceberg. Since 2016, we’ve been running a ticket bank scheme, thanks to support from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. This scheme allows us to subsidise tickets for people who’ve not been able to access our theatre before.

A dress rehearsal of Peter Pan, attended by children from the Oncology ward at Treliske

On reopening the newly transformed HfC in 2021, we relaunched the scheme as the Community Culture Club, supported by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. In this instance it’s Levelling Up investment doing exactly what was intended. It means that more people can enjoy our programme.

We fully recognise that going to the theatre may not be high on everyone’s agenda. The cost-of-living crisis may mean money is tight for many people. Rural isolation, poor transport, childcare costs, poverty, illness, loneliness and/or social anxiety may also be contributing factors.

Attracting first-time visitors

To attract first-time visitors, we’re targeting areas and postcodes in Cornwall where people are deemed less likely to attend a cultural event or theatre. We’re able to monitor and measure attendance, which informs how we go about engaging potential new audiences. We want to build on the 2,000 people that have already seen a show through our ticket bank scheme since 2022. And our pre-show visitor briefings help alleviate any fears or worries folk might have, particularly if it’s their first time in a theatre.

Young dancers perform on our stage during our Youth Celebration Weekend

After a show we also host a workshop, so people can talk through what they’ve seen. In addition, we’re offering people the chance to make their own work after their visit if that’s something they want to do. A celebratory showcase of all the work created is earmarked for 2024.

Open to all

We are both excited and realistic about what we can achieve, but we hope our Community Culture Club makes a difference to those it aims to attract. There are different barriers for different people. But one trip to the theatre could be the best night someone has had for a long time - and isn’t that a wonderful prospect.

Rambert Dance Company rehearsals

I’ve seen so many people enjoy what HfC has to offer. And as a team we’re motivated to ensure as many people as possible get to experience our theatre and programme. For example, we worked with social prescribers to arrange a visit for a group of recently-bereaved spouses who felt they couldn’t go to the theatre on their own. In a different way, we’re working with Ukrainian refugees to provide language workshops and visits. And amongst others we’ve welcomed groups from the deaf community too.

Magical moments

To be honest, before I worked at HfC, I was a little sniffy about some of the programme. I understand more so now that we need to provide our audiences with variety. And whilst some shows might not be your taste or mine, it’s important to have a diverse programme.

Seeing and hearing the auditorium fizz when it’s full of people is always a magical moment. I get goosebumps every time. It’s a cliché, but theatre and dance really changed my life - and I want everyone to have the same opportunity to experience it.

Meet and greet with the cast of Joss Arnott's Tin Man

For me it’s about people knowing that the power of performance can be theirs.

Being brave and coming to the Cornwall Playhouse is the first step. I’m so proud of what our Community Culture Club has achieved so far. There is something for everyone at Hall for Cornwall. I hope more people take that step and enjoy the first of many magical moments of their own.

Photos by Hugh Hastings.


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