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New report commissioned by Polka Theatre offers fresh insights into developing future theatre audiences

The report considers the outcomes from Polka’s three year Schools and Libraries Reach programme to find new ways to improve on Polka’s existing success.

Polka have been historically dedicated to widening access and participation, by making theatre as accessible to as many children as possible no matter what their background. The Schools and Libraries Reach programme, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, enabled Polka to develop new ways to work with community partners to increase engagement with hard-to-reach families and communities in the London Borough of Merton.

The project worked through strengthening partnerships with Merton schools, libraries and SEN schools, with the aim of engaging new audiences to Polka’s work. Through offering supported access to free theatre tickets for Polka shows between 2015 and 2018 the programme achieved considerable success in engaging groups in more deprived parts of the borough.

Amongst the many successes of the programme, Polka found that uptake of these free ticket vouchers was lower than expected. This research was therefore commissioned to understand the barriers to attending even when offered free tickets, to improve understanding around this issue both for Polka and within the theatre sector.

The report by Dr Emma Miles, Senior Lecturer in Education at Anglia Ruskin University explores perspectives on the barriers and incentives to live theatre access for family audiences.

Key factors that influenced parental decisions were confidence about culture, language barriers, finding the time to visit the theatre, values and interest and location and communications.

Polka is publishing this report as a useful tool for the theatre sector’s producers and venues to support their programming and audience development strategies. Read the full report here.

Lynette Shanbury Joint CEO for Polka said “Polka has been working with hard to reach communities for decades but it is important we continue to build our understanding of why some people are still not accessing theatre. This is an issue of national importance, and one which the sector as a whole continues to work on”.

Dr Emma Miles said “Polka have established a model of working with schools that brings them very close to communities that would otherwise be under-represented amongst their audiences. I hope this report will provide fresh insight for the theatre industry and enable them to improve on their audience development strategies”

Details about the project:

Every year Polka gives away 11% of its tickets free of charge to encourage participation by hard-to-reach or disadvantaged audiences.

The Stavros initiative included a programme of pre and post-show schools workshops with free online resources that supported teachers to include curriculum linked live theatre and drama within their teaching programmes. Polka added value to the offer to schools and community partners with a strategic aim of developing direct relationships with family audiences.

The results demonstrated a clear correlation between strong relationships with community partners and increasing direct engagement with families in hard-to-reach groups within local communities.

About Polka Theatre:

Polka is one of the few theatres in the UK dedicated exclusively to children. Based in Wimbledon since 1979, Polka creates world-class theatre to entertain and inspire young audiences. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019 with a substantial redevelopment Polka will remain at the forefront of children’s theatre for future generations. Providing innovative and thought-provoking work for an increasingly culturally diverse young audience, the development will include a new Adventure Theatre specially designed for young children up to age 5. Polka is a local theatre with an international reputation, known throughout the world as a pioneer of theatre for children, consistently setting the standard and raising audience’s expectations.

Images and interviews are available, please contact:

Binita Walia PR for Polka Theatre

About Dr Emma Miles

Dr. Emma Miles is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Anglia Ruskin University. Her PhD research at Royal Holloway, University of London, looked at children’s engagement with Theatre for Early Years audiences at Polka Theatre. She continues to research pedagogy and engagement in relation to children’s and families’ arts experiences.

About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) is one of the world’s leading private, international philanthropic organizations, making grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. Since 1996, the Foundation has committed more than $2.9 billion, through more than 4,500 grants to non-profit organizations in 124 nations around the world.

The SNF funds organizations and projects, worldwide, that aim to achieve a broad, lasting and positive impact for society at large, and exhibit strong leadership and sound management. The Foundation also supports projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as an effective means for serving public welfare.

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