In my twitter timeline I have seen tweets from BONCulture and Theatre2016 advertising the report of their conference, along with a headline of Samuel West “Theatre is not Ryanair”.  Today I gave it a read.

The “Ryanair” part is actually a very small part, and talks of drinks and programmes at high prices in theatres. Of course, I agree with this. The headline is very weighted to one part and, actually, I firmly believe theatre NEEDS to be more like Ryanair – whoa! I can already hear teeth grinding, so just give me a chance on this one…….

For all that is sometimes portrayed to be bad about Ryanair, some fairly, some unfairly, “Rip off Fees” “Pay-per-use Toilets” “That DAMN Bugle” it has achieved many things that need to be applauded and that theatre could to well to at least strive for.

Price and Location Accessibility

Not twenty years ago, if you wanted to travel to Bucharest, for whatever reason, your choice was not really a choice. It probably started with “Drive to London” – your choice was then Gatwick or Heathrow and a choice of BA or Lufthansa / KLM via Munich or Amsterdam. All for the “bargain” price of perhaps £300 per person.

It’s great you can see them, folks living in London

So for those of you in the deep South-west, North-east England or Scotland, you were basically excluded from easy access for a weekend break by your geographical location. You would have to leave late Thursday/early Friday and and return early Sunday, and you’d spend more time travelling than enjoying the break.

The same is true of many shows that perhaps are born, live and die in London. It’s great you can see them, folks living in London, but those outside the South-east cannot see them, without an overnight and travel, yet more expense on top of a ticket, without even counting another day away from work.

Queue all day schemes are great, but again, if you have time or are geographically advantaged.

Price is a fun subject to talk about in ticketing or theatre. Let’s also face facts that not all, or perhaps ANY seats on Ryanair on FR2005 (yes Stansted is a London Airport!) – actually sell for £4.99 – but there are now examples of at least SOME seats being readily and fairly available to flyers around the country at this price. Theatre ‘queue all day’ schemes are great, but again, if you have time and/or are geographically advantaged.

So, making a range of accessible prices to people at locations across the UK (not just the South East) is a trait of Ryanair I would welcome in Theatre.

Experimentation

I have taken a fair few ‘punts’ on shows before. We all have, most likely at things like the Fringe. I have seen some from the awful, painful to the down right embarrassing. There have been some superb shows, though, not just at festivals. A trip last year to Welsh National Opera kicked me back into seeing Opera and also Symphony Orchestras. Not as a subscriber, but just enough to be engaged.

Looking back at that Bucharest trip – didn’t a lot of us get our first taste of European city breaks from Ryanair, Easyjet, Go!(remember them?) or BMI-Baby? For sure, now we are older, and, hopefully, with a better income, we can spend four days in Rome, then go onto Pisa and Milan.  But in the past, unless you went Inter-railing (or lived in the South-east), it was budget airlines that opened up your mind to travel, to new ideas, architecture, food, drink or fashion.

New audiences come from experimentation

Without that £9.99 fare would we have been willing to experiment with a weekend away? It may seem like I am repeating myself here, but it’s not so much about the price but about the opportunity to experiment.

“Pay what you like”/”what it was worth” or ‘no-quibble’ refunds can be very risky, but the value conscious consumer likes service providers putting their money where their mouths are.

This is not the solution to all of the problems though. I remember talking to my bank manager about WNO and their “£5 Under 25” tickets (yes he was only 23) and he said he was not sure whether he would “risk it” – as it “wasn’t for him”.

New audiences come from experimentation or through recommendations after experimentation, so we need to help people broaden their consumption to new arts forms, just like Ryanair did with getting us to a weekend in Stavanger.

Equality

In the past I have blogged on airline loyalty. I love it and have recently ascended to another tier on my current programme. Board first, extra bag, upgrade, lounge – I’m sure many of you are familiar with the perks; these don’t really have a place in theatre, although some chains have their lounge programmes.

There is a snobbery with loyalty, or even among  regular flyers – looking down on those who are in economy from their lie flat beds, or a snigger at someone not understanding a closed luggage bin means it’s full.

We must make all customers feel equally welcome

Let’s not forget that theatre – or let’s widen the definition to “buildings that show performances” – have rules, ettiquette as well as names and sounds that people don’t understand or appreciate exist.

Budget airlines stepped forward and wiped away a large amount of exclusivity or elitism.  Yes there is “Speedy Boarding” (first to board the bus to the aircraft), but that was mainly used for you to be able to sit together. On board, there is no little curtain  to separate rows 5 and 6, no different toilet etc., etc.

If you’ve flown in the past four years, you’ll be familiar with the announcement “we know many of you have heard this before, but please spare us a few minutes of your time” – frequent flyers may tut, but it is yet another inclusive, welcoming policy or wording that explains things.

We must make all customers feel equally welcome, that they are just as valued in the £15 seat as the £100 ones, just like Ryanair.

Becoming a Common Thing to Do

A week or two ago, I got chatting to a guy who I was fishing next to. He told me he was taking his first flight in September. (he is in his early 50’s).  I was actually shocked, as I have chatted to him before and he did not strike me as a flight virgin. He asked me if I had flown before, so I replied “yes, 43 times this year”; he was equally shocked by my binge flying.

His is perhaps now becoming a harder to find story, just one of not getting round to an experience or wishing to do it.  I am guessing, outside of medical or psychological issues, most of us, our family and friends have flown. A great many people’s first flight  is on budget airlines (or only flights), because of price and accessibility issues.

Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.

This has led to flying being a normal thing to do: most people fly, have flown, have views on flying, airlines to compare, stories about great flights they have been on, as well as the odd unhappy ones or plain awful ones. In short, reviews, sharing, recommendations, talking about experiences, what we ALL want people to do about theatre. Share, recommend, encourage, organise group trips and bookings.

For sure Ryanair don’t make people share stories, but by breaking down barriers, they have, along with other airlines, made air travel more and more popular and something we regard as normal activity. Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.

Yes on Ryanair the drinks are overpriced and £20 EACH WAY for a suitcase may sound extreme, but this is just like the booking fees of some theatres.  So we need to look at the overall contribution and barriers we need to remove.

Looking for what WORKS

No, we don’t want a bugle for another “On-time curtain up” for sure. It’s not that I am against Samuel West’s comments, but more the headline.  Let’s look at what we can GAIN from other sectors to help ours succeed.

There are enough challenges for us right now, we should all be looking at opportunities.