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Barbican Theatre make culture accessible with a year of Pay What You Decide

Barbican Theatre, Plymouth are celebrating the impact of a year selling all their shows as Pay What You Decide tickets. It has encouraged risk taking and engagement of new audiences with arts and culture in Plymouth.  

Our Pay What You Decide (PWYD) events offer audiences the opportunity to pay whatever they feel an event is worth to them (including £0). They can pay when they book or after they have seen the show. 

The Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation has recently published their Impact Report for the 2021-22 financial year, which details the impact of the Pay What You Decide scheme which had been implemented for 52 shows and events including comedy, dance, live music, theatre, drag and improv. (This figure has since increased to 67 with a further 15 events, shows and workshops programmed as Pay What You Decide between April and September 2022)   

During the 2021-22 year 3103 Pay What You Decide tickets were issued, generating an income of £17,224 and resulting in an average yield of £9. Our data shows 61% new audiences who are the holy grail of under 35s non-arts attendees! 

In her article ‘Stop listening to loud ghosts’ about how change in the culture sector is possible, Laura Kriefman,  Barbican Theatre’s CEO and Artistic Director says

We’re fuelling a new consistent audience, with shows selling extraordinarily well and with our ‘small’ venue achieving a reach of over 2 million people in the last two years.

Our passion has been about creating new routes into seeing ‘culture’ and that means we have to rethink everything from price, value, how you talk about money, coded and biased language and advertising, what copy and images actually say to totally new techniques to reach different audiences.”

After only a year of programming citywide and inside our theatre entirely within a Pay What You Decide Box Office – where there is no financial barrier to accessing a show – we have a risk-taking audience with an appetite for seeing work. Our data shows 61% new Audiences, who are the holy grail of under 35s non-arts attendees. 40% of our audiences living in the top 1 and 3% uk wide areas of multiple indices of socio-economic deprivation (70 % in the top 10% areas) with over 25% of customers said PWYD was the reason they booked (with the same percentage stating if not for Pay What You Decide they would not have booked). Our Pay What You Decide systems are now being adopted by other organisations in Plymouth.

Jo Cann, Barbican Theatre’s Marketing & Communications Manager says

“Feedback from audiences has been incredible, and proves to the Barbican team that Pay What You Decide is making a huge difference to who can attend and benefit from the experience of culture and live events. We have spent a great deal of time making sure the language used to communicate how Pay What You Decide works is both accessible and transparent and it’s genuinely so great to see how this has really worked for us and our audiences.” 

“If not for the pay what you feel idea, I couldn’t come. I cannot afford ‘normal’ theatre prices.”

“Being pay after encouraged me to try something I probably wouldn’t have had I had to pay in advance.”

“It makes theatre experiences total possible”.

The Barbican now know that the average price people can actually afford to take a risk on seeing a show is just over £9 a ticket. While this has an impact on our box office yield, we’re fuelling a consistent new audience, with shows selling extraordinarily well and with our small venue achieving a reach of over 2 million people in the last two years.

We were able to commit to a year of Pay What You Decide thanks to the support of the Esmee Fairbairn and Garfield Western Foundation. 

Barbican Theatre is excited to announce another new season of Pay What You Decide events including Dunstan Bruce’s Am I Invisible Yet? (spoken word/theatre 23 September) Malaika Kegode & Jakabol’s Outlier (gig/theatre 14-15 October), Scratchworks ‘Hags: A Magical Extravaganza ( comedy/theatre 28-29 October) and  Vincent Dance Theatre’s Hold Tight (dance/theatre 12 November). Tickets are all available at barbicantheatre.co.uk 


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