Decline in School Bookings – Little Angel Theatre’s Response

There has been a great deal of talk in the media recently about the decline in school bookings and the consequent crisis for Children’s Theatres, notably through the Unicorn’s blog post and a recently published article in The Stage. Samantha Lane, Little Angel’s new Artistic Director, comments on Little Angel’s position:

“We have certainly seen a dip in attendance from schools at Little Angel Theatre. We rely on school bookings for our weekday performances, and so far this academic year there have been 30 out of 149 weekday term-time performances where no school booked at all. That’s 20% of the overall performances intended for schools, and, as a direct result, we had to cancel 7 shows.

The barriers to theatre attendance go way beyond cost though – we run a scheme at Little Angel called Puppets for All – where we give away free tickets to local disadvantaged schools (diverse schools with high numbers of children on Free School Meals). But even when tickets are offered for free, the allocation isn’t always taken up. For example, we offered free tickets to 6 schools for ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ but this was only taken up by 2 schools; and we offered free tickets to 9 schools for ‘Skitterbang Island’ but these were only taken up by 3 schools.

I believe this decline in audience is partly related to the diminishing significance of the arts in schools, but mostly related to curriculum needs. If the show doesn’t support the curriculum, why come and see it? We are increasingly being told that if shows don’t fit in with the traditional tales strand of the literacy curriculum for primary schools, they won’t come. Our weekday performances of ‘Sleeping Beauty in the Wood’ (for 3+) sold out completely and we turned schools away who were learning about traditional stories, but weekday performances for ‘The Tear Thief’ and ‘Skitterbang Island’ (same age) were both only about 60% full, and with a greater proportion of public bookers (i.e. families and non-school bookings). The biggest danger for any theatre then is being forced to programme work to serve curriculum needs rather than theatre based purely on its artistic value. And this may well mean taking less of a risk, unless there is a shift in value and support for the arts in education. Even teachers who wholeheartedly support the arts and value its impact on their teaching, are finding it increasingly difficult to justify trips financially and for educational value. They are under such a lot of pressure to meet standards, fill out forms, monitor, evaluate etc – they are shattered and simply don’t have the energy to organise, let alone go on, a trip out.”