Taking a Chance on Theatre

The Lowry Theatre Exterior Design

The Lowry Theatre (Front Elevation). Photo Credit: Percy Dean

Why The Lowry’s PAY WHAT YOU DECIDE season could open your mind and your wallet to new experiences

If you’ve attended a theatre show recently, chances are it set you back a pretty penny. With the average theatre ticket costing £24.96 in 2016, a trip to the theatre can be an expensive night out for most. Yet, while you might be willing to part with your hard earned cash for a big spectacle like ELF THE MUSICAL or CABARET, most theatre lovers are not quite so willing to take a risk on something new.

This is one of the barriers The Lowry came up against when trying to promote some of its shows. Best known for being at the forefront of contemporary, cutting-edge theatre, the world class arts centre found that some of its smaller, thought-provoking pieces struggled to reach big audiences because people were intimidated when it came to trying something new. To break down these barriers, the team came up with a rather special and innovative idea aptly called PAY WHAT YOU DECIDE.

The Lowry’s PAY WHAT YOU DECIDE (PWYD) concept works by removing the financial risk for audiences who want to try something new but are worried about paying for something they may not enjoy. Instead of paying for a ticket in advance, audiences are asked to decide how much they want to pay for the performance at the end of the night, whether that be £5 or £50. The programme is divided between two completely different theatre offerings: WTF WEDNESDAYS – a series of groundbreaking performances for the ‘compulsively curious’ and HUSH HUSH nights, a ‘secret’ show guaranteed to be a fun night for all.

The brains behind the innovative concept is Matthew Eames, The Lowry’s Theatres Programmer and Producer. Eames came up with PWYD concept after seeing a similar project in cinema.

“I came across it in cinema when I was living in Germany for a little while” explains Eames in an exclusive interview with Frankly My Dear UK.

“They had a ‘sneak preview’ where you’d go along on a Tuesday night and pay a nominal amount and you would not know what you’re going to watch. There was just a real buzz in the queue and a real buzz in the cinema as you’re waiting for the credits to come up. I always wondered how that might work for theatre”.

Keen to give it a go, Eames and the team at The Lowry decided to test out the PWYD concept in January 2017 with four shows divided between WTF WEDNESDAYS and HUSH HUSH. The programme proved to be a huge success with hundreds of people securing a ticket for Massive Owl’s CASTLE ROCK and Prototype Theatre’s A MACHINE THEY’RE SECRETLY BUILDING, as well as the two secret HUSH HUSH performances.

“I remember the response of the first one was remarkable” recalls Eames. “I think the first two shows both sold out within a couple of weeks of going on sale.”

“We haven’t had to disappoint anyone yet but if it continues to go in the way it’s going then we’ll get to a point where we are turning people away – which is lovely.”

The programme is now in its third season and interest in the concept continues to grow. Last month, the venue played host to Jo Bannon’s ALBA, a powerful visual piece about blending in and standing as part of WTF WEDNESDAY as well as Sleeping Tree’s WESTERN? as part of HUSH HUSH.

Two exciting shows are also soon to follow with Two Destination Language performing DECLINING SOLO as part of WTF WEDNESDAY on 8 November and another secret HUSH HUSH performance scheduled on 17 November. So what can you expect when you come to see a PWYD event?

“With WTF, we try to give the audience an all-rounded experience. There’s a WTF drink at the bar that they can buy if they want, there’s a programme which tells them a little bit about what they are going to watch and I’ll always do an introduction that welcomes people. We always ask for feedback at the end in partnership with Word of Warning who are the masters at the more cutting-edge contemporary work. They’re also on hand to talk to people and get feedback so it’s a really rounded experience, it’s not just going to the theatre” explains Eames.

“With HUSH HUSH, we try to be more or less invisible and we stick a video on that again tells them what they need to know about PWYD for example. We just to play into the silliness and the fact that they can enjoy it. Aside from that, it’s just a normal theatre experience of collecting a ticket and going and seeing what you think. We try and harness that mysteriousness.”

More importantly, the programme helps to fulfil The Lowry’s aim to bring cutting-edge theatre to new audiences.

“It’s important that we try to find ways to encourage people to give theatre a chance, particularly theatre that breaks down boundaries” explains Eames.

“We’ve been really pleased with the response and we certainly can talk about the work more positively.”

The Lowry’s PWYD autumn season continues with WTF WEDNESDAY: Two Destination Language – Declining Solo on 8 November and HUSH HUSH on 17 November 2017.

Been to a past PWYD event? We’d love to hear from you! Head over to our Twitter account or Facebook page to tell us what you thought about the experience.