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Six-month ‘pay what you decide’ trial launched at Stockton ARC

Stockton's ARC is trialling a new system where audiences can pay what they want after a show
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Stockton arts venue ARC has launched a scheme where audiences can pay what they think a show is worth after they have seen it.

The Pay What You Decide system is now in effect for all theatre productions at the arts centre for six months, following a trial on a one-man show at the venue.

Too Much, Too Young, starring Jack Bennett in January, took nearly 50% more than the theatre expected, with almost one third of the audience new to theatre performances at the ARC.

Although the theatre would usually charge £10 for a show such as Too Much, Too Young, through various discounts and free ticket offers it would be expected to yield an average £3.50 per ticket. However, the one-man performance took an average £5.25 per ticket.

ARC chief executive Annabel Turpin emphasised that it was too soon to label the Pay What You Decide scheme as success.

“There’s a lack of research around it,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll come out and say so. We’re big enough and brave enough to admit that we’ve tried something and it hasn’t worked [if it does not work]. I think it will, and I’m really confident that it will.”

Turpin explained that although the scheme would encourage bigger audiences through potentially lower prices, it is more important to remove the gamble involved in seeing new work at the theatre.

She said: “There is a core of people who probably can afford to come, but don’t come because it feels like too big a risk. So as well as removing the financial barrier, we’re also removing the financial risk barrier, and I think that’s much bigger.”

A similar scheme is in operation for performances at Slung Low’s Hub venue in Leeds, although the venue does not guarantee performers a fee.

For productions at ARC where artists work on a box-office split and not a guaranteed fee, the theatre will estimate the amount performers would have earned at the box office and guarantee them a payment of at least that amount.

If the six-month test is successful, it is hoped the scheme will become the permanent pricing policy for the ARC’s theatre shows.

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