(BBC NEWS) Up to 95 publicly-funded theatres across England are to offer free tickets to young adults as part of a £2.5m government-funded scheme.
From next year until 2011, the theatres will offer free tickets – at least one day each week – to 18 to 26-year-olds on a first-come, first-served basis.
Theatres including London’s National Theatre and the Birmingham Rep will be eligible to apply for the scheme.
Culture secretary Andy Burnham denied the scheme was a “gimmick”.
The scheme follows recommendations made in a recent government review about engaging young people.
The Supporting Excellence in the Arts report, by former Edinburgh International Festival director Sir Brian McMaster, recommended a “free week” to engage young audiences by opening up publicly-funded arts organisations.
Arts and culture have the ability to enhance and change people’s lives. Government is committed to increasing access to the arts for everyone
Would free tickets make you go to the theatre?
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that, after consulting with venues, the idea had been translated into “a long-term and sustainable opportunity to engage young people and build a new audience over a period of time”.
A spokeswoman said: “Arts and culture have the ability to enhance and change people’s lives.
“Government is committed to increasing access to the arts for everyone.
“Free theatre follows on from free access to museums and, more recently, free swimming.”
During a visit to the Lowry arts centre in Salford on Wednesday, culture secretary Andy Burnham denied the scheme was “a gimmick”.
He said theatre “can change people’s lives, it can give them new insights, it can broaden their minds and help them achieve their potential”.
He added: “I think it’s entirely right the government should make all these good things available.”
His comments were supported by actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, who said theatre was “the greatest art form”.
“I think the magic of live theatre goes straight into the bloodstream,” he told the BBC News channel.
“Once you expose young people to it, you have to make sure they’re attracted to it again.”
Arts Council England has given its support to the scheme, calling it “an exciting new step”.
“We want young people to grow up with a strong sense of the possibilities the arts give them,” said its chief executive, Alan Davey.
“In order to have that happen, we must make it easy for young people to get access to excellent, inspiring art.”