Recent controversy at Shakespeare’s Globe made little mention of a key point raised by Dominic Dromgoole: the importance of £5 tickets. Nicky Goulder says the incoming artistic director should fight to keep them.

Photo of cast on stage at Globe Theatre
Taming of the Shrew performed as part of the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank programme

There was drama in London’s theatre scene last week when Emma Rice and Dominic Dromgoole, the outgoing and former artistic directors of Shakespeare’s Globe, published open letters on the theatre’s website. Both letters welcomed the Globe’s future artistic director but stoked controversy around Rice’s departure by criticising the theatre’s board.

Being able to offer these tickets to some of our participants was a fantastic extension of our mission

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of coverage focused on Rice’s disagreements with the board and the creative freedom, or otherwise, of the incoming artistic director. The Guardian’s headline was: “Shakespeare’s Globe board did not respect me, says artistic director.”

Forgotten paragraph

One paragraph in Dromgoole’s letter, which barely received a mention in any of the coverage, let alone any reflection or analysis, argued that it is vital for Shakespeare’s Globe to remain financially accessible:

“At the heart of the Globe are, for me, two things. First the £5 ticket for the yard. Over the last twenty years that single fact has given over five million people an extraordinary experience for less than a sandwich costs. They have seen Mark [Rylance] in his pomp, Gemma Arterton’s Rosaline, Gugu Mbatha Raw’s Nell Gwynn, Roger Allam’s Falstaff, Eve Best’s Beatrice and Cleopatra, and countless others for only £5. It is a miracle.

“For all the talk of accessibility elsewhere, there is nothing equivalent to touch it. It makes many uneasy, many who espouse accessibility write with a shameful snobbery about tourists and students as if they were a sub-human species. There was also a steady pressure internally to raise that price, a pressure which Mark and I and Emma resisted. The £5 ticket is at the heart of the Globe’s success, you must fight for its survival.”

Top priority

In my opinion, Dromgoole’s plea to fight for the survival of the £5 ticket needs to be at the top of the new artistic director’s priorities. The suggestion that “there is nothing equivalent to touch it” is almost correct: there is another way in which Shakespeare’s Globe has an even more profound impact.

Since 2007 the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank programme has distributed £2 million worth of free tickets for special performances that have brought more than 150,000 young people through the theatre’s doors in the last decade. Alongside this, 24,000 students have attended workshops to support their learning of Shakespeare and over 1,000 teachers have received professional development training to bring the theatre to life in the classroom.

Research into the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank programme, published the week before the artistic directors’ letters, backs up Dromgoole’s advocacy of the importance of accessibility. The research found that almost half the young people coming to Playing Shakespeare performances have never been inside a theatre before.

Quality experiences

My own charity Create received tickets donated by Deutsche Bank. Being able to offer these to some of our participants was a fantastic extension of our mission to enable disadvantaged and vulnerable people to enjoy the highest quality arts experiences for free.

We run free creative arts programmes, led by professional artists, with a wide range of groups including young and adult carers, people with disabilities, homeless people, vulnerable older people, young fathers in prison and young patients. We see day in day out how a spark of creative energy can open up a world of opportunity.

One young carer who looks after his mum with terminal cancer took part in a drama workshop in Newham that concluded with a performance of monologues. He told us: “I felt nervous before the performance because I was doing it in front of an audience but I felt like I could do it. I feel like I’m showing what I can do and what I’m good at. I want my mum to know that her son is doing good in life and to make her proud. Doing this project, I learned that I can work with new people who I don’t know. If you meet new people you have more friends, and the more friends you have the more you feel like you’re in a world where people can help you."

Cultural learning report

Earlier this year the Cultural Learning Alliance released Imagine Nation, a report into the social, educational, economic and personal value of cultural learning for young people.

Key findings include:

  • Participation in structured arts activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17%.
  • Learning through arts and culture develops skills and behaviour that lead children to do better in school.
  • Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher.
  • Young people who engage with the arts are more likely to stay in employment.
  • People who take part in the arts are 38% more likely to report good health.

But not all young people are given the same opportunities, and those already at a disadvantage because of their circumstances are the least likely to be able to enjoy the benefits of cultural learning.

Creative opportunities

That's why Dromgoole is absolutely right. The financial accessibility of Shakespeare’s Globe, including the £5 tickets and the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank programme, is vital, ensuring as it does that the opportunity of enjoying world-class arts and culture is available to everyone, not just those with a wealth of disposable income and leisure time.

All young people need cultural institutions to be financially accessible, opportunities to be creative, and encouragement to engage with the arts. So yes, future artistic director, ensure you have the creative freedom and integrity necessary to make world-class theatre, but also fight to keep the theatre financially accessible so everyone can enjoy the wonderful productions you stage.

Nicky Goulder is Co-founder and Chief Executive of Create.

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Photo of Nicky Goulder