Polka Publishes New Report

September 16, 2019

Polka has published a new report offering fresh insight into developing future theatre audiences. The report considers the outcomes from Polka’s three year Schools and Libraries Reach programme to find new ways to improve on Polka’s existing success.


Polka have historically been dedicated to widening access and participation by making theatre as accessible to as many children as possible – no matter what their background. The Schools and Libraries Reach programme, funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, enabled Polka to develop new ways to work with community partners to increase engagement with hard-to-reach families and communities in the London Borough of Merton.

The project worked through strengthening partnerships with Merton schools, libraries and SEN schools, with the aim of engaging new audiences to Polka’s work. Through offering supported access to free theatre tickets for Polka shows between 2015 and 2018 the programme achieved considerable success in engaging groups in more deprived parts of the borough.

Among the many successes of the programme, Polka found that uptake of these free ticket vouchers was lower than expected. This research was therefore commissioned to understand the barriers to attending even when offered free tickets, to improve understanding around this issue both for Polka and within the theatre sector.

The report by Dr Emma Miles, Senior Lecturer in Education at Anglia Ruskin University, explores perspectives on the barriers and incentives to live theatre access for family audiences. Key factors that influenced parental decisions were confidence about culture, language barriers, finding the time to visit the theatre, values and interest and location and communications.

Polka is publishing this report as a useful tool for the theatre sector’s producers and venues to support their programming and audience development strategies.

Lynette Shanbury, Joint CEO for Polka said: “Polka has been working with hard to reach communities for decades but it is important we continue to build our understanding of why some people are still not accessing theatre. This is an issue of national importance, and one which the sector as a whole continues to work on”.

Dr Emma Miles said: “Polka have established a model of working with schools that brings them very close to communities that would otherwise be under-represented among their audiences. Through their Schools Relationship Officer, they have been able to establish strong connections with teachers, which is the key to encouraging new people through the door.”


Download full report here.


This project and report are supported by: