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Dear West End Producer: ‘Why doesn’t the younger generation have much love for theatre?’

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It all begins at school. Young people are not exposed to as much drama and theatre as they used to be. Sadly, the education system is now primarily aimed at children learning non-artistic qualifications (maths and science). The government prioritises these subjects – it thinks they’re more important for the economy – but it is wrong. By denying youngsters the chance to experience the arts, we are creating a society that will not be able to express themselves or reflect on humanity. Art is not a commodity – it is a necessity that creates fully-rounded people.

Theatre was a big part of, not only my schooling, but also, my family life. I am not from a wealthy background, but theatre was something we all looked forward to. Seeing the actors, the lights, the sets – all happening live was something I will never forget. However, most children’s interactions now happen through a smartphone or screen, and most of it is pre-recorded. Children grow up watching things on a tablet and communicating through an earpiece – the art of learning how to talk to another person is becoming extinct.

We are forgetting how to communicate and experience real life. People wake up and check social media, read emails and play candy crush before kissing their partner or hugging their parents. This artificial existence makes the need for theatre even more important. Theatre is a living entity, a performance that happens in front of you. From it we learn how to focus again, following stories into new worlds – forgetting the Trump-Brexit existence we have to endure. This escape is vital for children.

And the way to get children to love theatre? Give them access to it at an early age. Schools need to book Theatre in Education productions – which are often children’s first experience of theatre. Schools also need to be enthusiastic about their own productions – and begin to once again value drama, music and art. Many professional actors found their place in school only when they joined the drama group – it gave them a meaning, a social circle, and something they felt good at.

David Wood: ‘Audiences for children’s theatre are becoming more middle-class as school trips decline’

All local theatres need to offer discount tickets for children and families, and many already do. These offers need to be publicised in schools so families are aware of them. Pantomimes are the ideal first outing for younger audiences – the snobbery that some people associate with them needs to be forgotten. A child’s experience of watching a pantomime is pure magic and this stays with them for a lifetime.

Theatre can be expensive, but there are seasonal offers. Every year there is Kids Week, where children can access London shows for free, with a full paying adult. Fortunately, children’s theatre is now experiencing a golden age – with productions such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea, We’re All Going on a Bear Hunt, and the entire David Walliams back catalogue touring the country. So take your nephews, nieces, sons, daughters – and keep the magic of theatre alive for the next generation, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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