The Wire star Wendell Pierce has argued that at least 10% of the seats in all theatres should be filled by school children.
He was speaking at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2019, where actors Hayley Atwell and Cush Jumbo also called for more access to theatre for schools.
Pierce, who is currently appearing in Death of a Salesman in the West End, told The Stage: “Schools should bring more kids to the theatre all the time, it should be a prerequisite.
“I’ve been asked to speak at so many different schools […] and I’ve said ‘I’ll do it, any time you want, I just have one precondition, you have to bring a group to see the play’, and all of a sudden they rescind the invitation.
“It’s actually appalling. You just chuck people like me through the school every once in a while, and say ‘Here’s another person of colour – you see he’s made it so you can too’ – but you don’t want to expose kids to the very thing.”
Pierce added: “I would like to see 10% of the house with kids and schools all the time.”
Atwell, who was nominated at the awards for her role in Rosmersholm, called for more government funding to give school children access to the arts.
“To be able to see live performers doing [a production] helps their understanding of the play, so it doesn’t feel like a dry academic thing they’re just reading, they’re emotionally connecting to it,” she said.
“When there is funding put into children having a live experience, that’s how we create change, it’s making people care.”
Atwell added: “Going to the theatre as a kid and having access to the cheaper seats and being able to have companies come into schools, that was the thing that made me think: ‘this is what I want to do’, and I don’t know where I’d be without that.”
Jumbo, who was hosting the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, also called on the government to “invest in young people and [make] sure that everybody has access to the arts”.
She added: “I think [access to the arts in schools] solves a lot of mental health problems, a lot of educational problems, it’s the foundation of what keeps society together.”