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New parents are born every year! (Why theatre programmers need to take much more risk)

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With red cheeks I hang a little bewildered the telephotooon on. Just I had a telephone appointment that took a completely different turn. I conducted short conversation with a theatre programmer still unknown to me. She unfortunately told us not to programme anything with our impresario, because there was really no need for artistic performances in her city. This lady stated that her public truly unique. Finding that audience for theatre performances other than a commercial title, was impossible in her city. So dAt their theatre, there is no appetite for the artistically substantive performances I have on offer. That ticket sales of dihe performances, even though Are they from the BIS companies, truly too far behindt and that parents in her city are just not waiting for "this kind" of performance.

Subtly, I responded that currently almost every theatre sees challenges in this for today's parents. But whatever entrance I tried to think with this surely very friendly theatre programmer, all ideas were rejected. She was definitely going to look into it. "The offer is nice, but..."

Not unique.

I am truly taken aback by this conversation. I sit looking at my screen in amazement, thinking "how so?!". It happens me so often that a programmer tells me that youth theatre at "heyn" in the city is so incredibly difficult. That parents in "their" village only to the commercial names want to go. That it is for "their" theatre really works so differently from others. But I actually want to get rid of that once and for all. Everywhere in the Netherlands, in every city and village, it is difficult to get parents and children to go to the theatre. Unfortunately, you are not unique in that! Unfortunately, it is difficult to get audiences to the theatre, but if you only put up commercial theatre, of course, you never change that!

Tessa Friedrich as performer of family show NO It is of course simply incredibly difficult to get youth theatre to be successful. Hhe audience, after all, is constantly renewing itself. But while that is a challenge, it is also the opportunity! Because there are many who do manage it! It does take a little extra and it does not happen automatically. Bhe other target groups you can build much more on your current audience. Once enjoyed Orkater, then every year enjoy Orkater. But children and parents refresh. Every so many years you have a new target group with new triggers and new leads. So you need to be in constant contact with your target audience and tune in to their needs. Of course, that's a lot of work!

Parents are also born.

But also a chance, because every year new parents are born again! So again, new opportunities to build audiences for your theatre as a whole. So yes, it is a difficult market, but this is also the market where you can guarantee the survival of your theatre. Because if parents have a great experience at a youth theatre show, they are more likely to go to a show in the regular programme too.

So my questions: Who do you want in your venue in 10 years' time? Who will make sure you can still exist in 20 years? Which performances will keep your theatre alive? Are you on a mission to only present the performances of Roy Donders and Nienke van der Plas programming? Or will you also want to Orkater, Toneelschuur, Oostpool, Scapino and so on? Do you want that last, because you also think That theatre is more than television on a stage? Because you also think that the imagination and wonder in theatre is more than a ladies night? Because you also believe that the performing arts is a profession with so much passion that it can inspire people much more deeply than anything else? Because you too are convinced that with theatre we can bring about more in a life than just that moment in that theatre? Because your for any reason want tot That your theatre just adds value in jold region?

What will be your raison d'être in 20 years' time?

Dan must now look differently at jold youth theatre programming! Then you should not hide behind "the wishes" of jold audience that are really just about short-term success. Then you can't think "our theatre audience is so unique" and "with us er just no question To real youth theatre". Because if you do dan comes that question er never and let's face it, what is the raison d'être of jold theatre then in 20 years?

Currently, most of the halls are filled with white, grey heads who are theoretically educated and learned in their younger years how important art and culture is. A fairly crucial memo is that these people are literally dying out. Everyone is aware of this and each theatre is looking for new audiences. They often find it in 'commercially attractive' or 'known from TV'. We all know that repeat visits from this audience are nil. Perhaps after this vlogger, they will come next time to watch that bn-er in a dino-suit.

Personally, I wonder why you should want to facilitate this, but I am aware of my tastes. The chances of the audience going to Frans Bauer will next go to The Seducers, Horror or a Woiski, woiski comes to see is, of course, very limited. The tastes of this audience are largely already formed and "Theatre is not for me" has already been decided.

Parents are different!

For parents this is very different! This is because they want to give their child a cultural upbringing. Even though they don't really like theatre themselves, they want their children in general provide all opportunities to be a successful human being. Although they do not identify themselves with that "white, old, theoretically educated elite" in theatre, they often do want to give their child the opportunity to do so. For instance, did you know that research has shown that a vibrant theatre is a motivation for prospective parents to buy a house in a city? Even if they never go to the theatre themselves!

So parents are much more likely to go to the theatre from the point of view of education, development and the child's enjoyment. They want to make their children happy and educate them with culture. So if you know how to tap into this need, there is a great opportunity there!


A number of variables into the decision-making process to with the family to come and see you and whether a repeat visit is in the cards after that first time. I would like to highlight some of them in the context of programming. Because You may be able to control more in your programming than you think!

Many parents want a guarantee that the show they are going to watch will be an enjoyable experience for their child anyway. Therefore, they tend to choose that familiar title. That children's book, that fairy tale, that bn-er or that "known from TV"-performance. Indeed, these performances appeal directly to a parent because they are Bob the Builder also on Nwatch Netflix. This is familiar and safe.

In a programme with many well-known and commercial names, most parents will opt for safe. They don't like to take a risk with their child, because imagine it's not fun! Especially at that price, because taking a family to the Going to the theatre is expensive. When we start looking at theatre ticket prices, you see that as the price per ticket increases, the willingness to take risk decreases. At least, I haven't official researched, but I believe this is certainly related related!


Parents forgotten at that choice their own tastes and preferences. They forget That when their child goes there to PeppaPig kseems, they yourself frequently engaged its with other things. That most parents' voices and the songs actually irritating findand. They go into the performance with the intention "this is fun for my child. this is not fun for me". And let's face it, most of these great productions are also actually not fun for adults. Only when you can enjoy your child's enjoyment is it a positive experience.

So often, after one of my performances, I hear parents say "I didn't know youth theatre could be fun for me too". I think this is a big problem! After all, the parent is the decision-maker! Youth theatre should give both child and parent a great experience! The more often he or she goes to a performance for his or her child, which they themselves don't think is a big deal, the fewer repeat visits. The less likely a theatre-loving generation and parents who might also want to go to a great show for themselves.


That the visit of the commercial successes of toddlers no enduring theatre audiences make you notice. We have been doing these toddler-toddler bangers for years, but the halls of the 6+ and 8+ performances its hugely inconvenient, itselfs for the commercial names. Parents bravely went with their toddlers and preschoolers while there found no bag to it. After all, a toddler and preschooler still really need to be entertained. 

Those parents have done their duty. "Now can Stefanie herself playing outside and last time she didn't like Sleeping Beauty either. So we stay at home, it scheelt money en as a parent need your not to listen to such a nasal voice". That the last time Sleeping Beauty was disappointing may also have been because mum was on Facebook the whole time during the performance. Apparently, the phone was more interesting than the performance. But the parents did their best, they can't help it. That performance didn't do that much for them kids done, but they have been.

Just stop it!

In recent years, it seems as if programming these safe commercial productions has become a given. The question at most theatres is not whether it is programmed is, but Whether there are any space is for layered and adventurous youth theatre. The less you programme of that, the harder for that audience can be found and therefore the more likely it is that this offer will disappear altogether! Because how are you supposed to convince parents of that layered performance, where they are not sure what they are getting, in the face of so much commercial violence? Although, of course, I have all kinds of best practice examples of have, all I want to do now is plead "stop it!".

Sometimes it seems like youth theatre is being used to fill up that big hall, to get visitor numbers for the performance obligation. Youth theatre often has to break even and no subsidy should go to programming.


But hoe beautiful it would be to use youth theatre to pass on the love and wonder of theatre! How nice it would be to recognise together that this target group is worth the investment! That if you want full houses at Orcat, you have to start with good adventurous musical theatre for children with plenty of layering for parents!

This is why I ask: Please don't let our new generations grow up with the image that theatre is is the same as people in big suits and a CD in the background! Please, take care of my beloved theatre and show children and their parents that it can be a celebration for the whole family! That theatre is the most fun outing for the whole family. Please, make different choices and take that opportunity to grab this truly benevolent audience by the scruff of the neck and make them fall in love with theatre!

A performance can then be like a 'Farmer Boris certainly be based on a well-known children's book, but also look for making parents laugh their heads off and chat about something with their children. It can than being a performance such as 'The giant dwarf who wants to be a head shorter, full of slapstick and the occasional fart joke. But those at the same time also makes you feel how rich and full of imagination classical music is! It may have been directed by someone from Good Times Bad Times, like 'King of Katoren', and are then also so intensely well put together in terms of dialogue, dramaturgy, musicality and performance.g that it makes parents curious for more!

Remember that a bad first encounter with theatre is also immediately the last encounter with theatre. Tot that anyone ageingt. So don't mess it up then!

Karin Bannink

"Once, as a five-year-old girl, I was taken to the theatre. I clearly remember the first time the lights went out, my legs dangled under the seat and I, with a finger in my mouth, watched, breathless. I was enchanted! Since then, I have been addicted to the building tension just before the performance, sit on the edge of my seat during intrigues, intensely enjoy beautiful songs and melodic lyrics and, above all, I am always moved by the applause. With Buro Bannink, I want to let as many young and old people as possible experience the magic of theatre every day. All this in the hope that someone will sit and watch breathlessly and there let theatre change their life."View Author posts

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