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The story behind our Pay What You Can scheme

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By Audience Development Officer Kathryn Lambert


  • How do you encourage people to go to the theatre?
  • Or to try a show that they are doubtful they will like?
  • How can we make sure that everyone can attend regardless of whether they can afford it or not?
  • How do small arts organisations compete with the scale and glitz of professional theatres and their annual Christmas pantomines?
  • How do we get large groups and families to visit and enjoy the experience together?


These are just some of the questions we asked ourselves when exploring new ways of developing audiences and in particular increasing family audiences for our Christmas shows.


One way is to broaden the programme and offer something unique, magical, charming, intimate and different to what’s on at other local larger scale theatres.  So we have once again chosen a bespoke piece of circus for all the family this Christmas.


Img: Circo Rum Ba Ba Dress Up For Christmas (Span Arts PWYC 2015)


Another, is to try out a Pay What You Can (PWYC) scheme, where people can pay whatever they can afford to give us for a ticket.  Everyone is welcome regardless of what they can afford to give. It means that those who can afford to pay do, and those who can’t can come to the theatre and enjoy the experience for free.

Of course, the idea is not new. Plenty of theatres have tried PWYC shows with a range of successes.  Often dress rehearsals or work in progress is sold on a PWYC basis at larger venues.  Nottingham Playhouse run a programme of PWYC events, PWYC Cinema was available last month at HOME in Manchester.

Sometimes, different models can lead to different relationships between performers, audiences and venues and this one is built on accessibility and opening our doors to everyone rather than a monetary exchange for a ticket.

What’s different about what’s happening at Span Arts is the fact that it’s taking place annually as part of an annual push to attract new audiences.  It’s also feeding through into other parts of our programme with Cheerful Project workshops and activities and our community engagement events being sold on a PWYC basis.

Last year, in 2015, our Pay What You Can Theatre was such as success that:

  • We saw record family theatre audiences of 250 people attending and enjoying the show.
  • 285 people booked in advance.
  • £1,134.60 was donated on the day
  • The average donation was £4.90
  • 40 participants took part in the PWYC workshop
  • 25% of audiences were first time visitors to Span Arts events
  • Feedback from the day was really positive


Since then our family theatre audiences have increased and we are seeing record breaking family figures with over 180 people enjoying our most recent family show The Owl and the Pussycat by Soup Soap Theatre Company.


Img: The Owl and the Pussycat by Soap Soup Theatre

The success of the scheme clearly shows that price is a barrier to attendance alongside other issues and we are convinced that making the theatre available to everyone brings in new audiences who otherwise would not attend the theatre.

“One of the interesting things around research on the A Night Less Ordinary scheme, which offered theatre tickets to young people was the fact was when price was no longer a barrier, then other barriers – uncertainties about how to behave, what to wear, even approaching the box office – were indirectly reduced too. The whole idea of going to the theatre became less of a risk.” Lyn Gardner, Guardian Theatre Blog

What will happen at Span Arts this Christmas is that audiences will be able to book a ticket in advance if they want, but there will be no obligation to pay anything in advance. Instead you pay at the end, when you can decide how much you think it’s worth. If you don’t want to pay anything, that’s fine too – nobody will know.

While we hope the scheme will encourage those to come to the theatre who might not otherwise be able to afford it, the scheme is less about removing the financial barrier of the ticket and more about removing the financial risk.  For example, if people know that they want to attend something, they will often find the money. It’s when they are not sure about a show, or nervous about the experience that they are less willing to take a risk.

Neither are artists being asked to take the brunt of the risk; that will rest with Span Arts. Artists will be paid in full, and if audiences turn out to be generous, then the funds will go back into Span Arts family theatre programme in order to ensure that we maintain our commitment to programme high quality and unique family theatre throughout the year.

 “Clearly, PWYD isn’t for everyone but for many organisations, the potential for developing your stronghold and opening up to new audiences is huge.”

So why not give it a try, by joining us this Christmas for our Pay What You Can Performance of:

L’Hotel Nöel by Circo Rum Ba Ba


Img: Circo Rum Ba Ba, L’Hotel Nöel

The Queens Hall, Narberth

Wednesday 28 December, 2016



Or stay on for the free workshop afterwards, recommended age 3+.


Span Arts already has a number of other family theatre events lined up for 2017 including:


21/02/2017 – Children’s Theatre: Jungle Book

Visually stimulating Indigo Moon bring us the well-known story of Mowgli the ‘man-cub,’ as he finds fun and friendship in learning to live by the Law of the Jungle. Inspired by the spirit of Kipling’s original books, the story is told through stunning shadow theatre, powerful original music and colourful digital projections.  Stay on for a demonstration afterwards.

Age Oed 3+

Advance £4.50/16

Door: £5.50/22



11/04/2017 – Children’s Theatre:
The Stones Echo | Carreg Ateb


Img: The Stones Echo by Carreg Ateb

Join lively storytelling puppet company Vagabondi on this captivating journey through the enchanted landscape of ancient Welsh myth. A bilingual production with atmospheric poetry, an evocative soundtrack and a variety of puppetry techniques, this show is designed to inspire and enthral young and old. Stay on afterwards to make your own puppet.
Age Oed 3+

Advance £4.50/16

Door: £5.50/22



21/04/2017 – Queen Bee by Feral Theatre at Colby Woodland Gardens

As spring stirs, Emily Laurens from award-winning Feral Theatre once again brings a magical mythical tale to Colby Woodland Garden. Join the Storywalk through the meadows and woods and explore the plants and creatures who live there through song, storytelling and Feral’s unique brand of visual theatre in a beautiful participatory experience exploring the importance of bees to life.

Ticket provides FREE entry into Colby Woodland Garden.

Tickets: £5


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Kathryn Lambert

Audience Development Officer

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