Author: Sarah Peters, Development and Education, Auckland Theatre Company
Source location: New Zealand
Date published: 23 June, 2004
Copyright: Auckland Theatre Company
This case study outlines how Auckland Theatre Company has successfully worked with student ambassadors for four years and details the experience and some of the rules they have set up around the program.
Currently there are 75 enthusiastic Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) Ambassadors each representing different secondary schools throughout New Zealand’s Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton.
As an ATC Ambassador, the students attend each of ATC's productions for free, as well as a broad selection of theatre and dance shows from local and touring companies. They also participate in forums with the actors and crew, backstage tours of theatre and television, design presentations and production briefings. Each Ambassador also acts as the link between ATC and their peer group, offering the opportunity for other teenagers to attend performances at a discounted rate and to become involved in the programmes ATC offers. It is a fantastic opportunity for ATC to meet and learn from keen young theatre-goers and artists - the audience and theatre makers of the future.
The programme has significantly increased the attendance of youth at Main bill performances and has encouraged feedback and participation from the teenage audience. Research on the attendance of ex-ATC Ambassadors shows that over half now go to theatre regularly and take friends with them when they go to see plays. Many also say that the friends they took to the theatre when they were an Ambassador now choose to see more plays. All of them view their time as an Ambassador as a positive experience - both for its exposure to theatre and for the strong friendships that they forged with other students.
Now in its fourth year, this rapidly-growing and highly-praised programme has established a network of young, regular theatre-goers and nurtured sister programmes in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
ATC Ambassadors reflect the diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences of Auckland. One representative of each Auckland secondary school, alternative education provider and youth theatre company is selected – a student leader with a passion for the arts.
Only one student is selected per school/organisation to keep it manageable – but smaller centres or trials of the programme may like to consider inviting pairs from each school. Selection is made in consultation with Drama teachers at each school. We talk to most teachers personally and then send out an application form.
We recommend that Ambassadors are a Year 12 or 13 student (in their final two years of school – 16-18 yrs) who is enthusiastic about the possibility of being an ATC Ambassador. The student may not necessarily be a budding actor – they could be interested in design, stage management, scriptwriting or just passionate about theatre.
A few key points to take into account when selecting an ATC Ambassador:
- Does the student drive or have access to transport to and from the performance venue? (this is very important, performances often finish after 9pm & are located in the central city)
- Are they open to seeing a range of plays and encouraging other students’ interest in theatre?
- Is the student reliable and willing to make a commitment to attending performances and other Ambassador activities for the whole year?
Ambassadors attend each of ATC’s productions for free, as well as a selection of shows from local and touring companies. Most local companies now support the project and invite Ambassadors to their shows. Ambassadors also participate in forums with the actors and crew, backstage tours and production briefings. We also have workshop days where Ambassadors can work with professional directors and actors. We also have a couple of parties in the year - an icebreaker and an end of year bash - so that everyone can socialise! The theatre can become a place where kids who might be awkward or out of place at school can find like-minded people and develop friendships.
We also take the Ambassadors on a tour of the South Pacific Pictures studios – the home of Shortland St and WhaleRider – to get an insight into the film and TV industry.
Ambassadors have a well-established email and texting network. Email and txt messaging and free SMS services are perfect for communicating with most of the group.
The Ambassador network has seen students organise interschool theatre exchanges, competitions and co-productions. Ex-Ambassadors have gone on to Drama School, Teachers College and even on-stage in ATC Main bill productions. The best thing is that many of them continue to come to the theatre.
Ambassadors get a really clear schedule and info pack at the beginning of the school year.
All Ambassadors are required to have their parent/caregiver sign a consent form acknowledging the varied (and sometimes adult) content of the year’s season and giving permission for their child to attend all shows.
ATC Ambassadors may bring friends (with High School or Tertiary Student ID) at a discounted rate to any ATC performance. These tickets are door sales only and subject to availability. Ambassadors can come as many times as they like and can bring fellow students who can purchase $8.00 standby tickets from the box office prior to the show. Ambassadors and their friends cannot book.
- Ambassadors (with ATC Ambassador ID Card) attend for free. Standby tickets only.
- Accompanying students (with Student ID) pay $8.00 each on the door. Standby tickets only.
NOTE: Allowing Ambassadors to bring friends to the forum night performance rather than making it exclusively ‘Ambassadors only’ often encourages greater attendance, e.g. “safety in numbers”, carpooling, etc.
Box office staff are thoroughly briefed and have a complete list of the Ambassadors. We also have the ability to track bookings and see how many $8.00 tickets are sold per
It’s a simple idea, with HUGE benefit and potential including:
- Building audiences
- Peer-based promotion to the youth market
- Making theatre “hip”
- Creating a youth initiative that is separate from ‘Theatre in Education’
- Discovery and support of up-and-coming practitioners
- Fantastic PR
- Meeting amazing young Aucklanders
This programme is designed to encourage more young people to attend theatre. Ambassadors have brought along groups of friends to attend performances – many of whom have never been to the theatre before.
Ambassadors are given feedback forms to complete at the end of each year to appraise and critique their experience as an Ambassador. This helps to improve the programme,
get a feeling for what shows appeal to younger audiences and to source some good quotes to help with funding applications!
All dedicated Ambassadors also receive a letter of recommendation to include in their CV.
FEEDBACK FROM ATC AMBASSADORS
"How awesome it s been to have this opportunity to see so much theatre. I feel like such a theatre buff now! Despite not being an Ambassador next year I will still come and check out shows."
Anna Lonsdale-Cooper, ATC Ambassador 2003, Howick College
"The Shortland Street trip was PHAT! Damn, I wish I could get a job there."
Ray Liufau, ATC Ambassador 2003, Kelston Boys’ High School
"It's nice to get questions answered about the staging/acting/background of the show. It gives a nice meaning to the show. Also allows for a greater understanding of the show."
Carl Rein, ATC Ambassador 2003, Westlake Boys High School
"Meeting new people from all over and getting the opportunity to go to fantastic plays. It really gave me a passion to act and this lead me to audition for ‘The Crucible’ at school
and I ended up being Judge Danforth which was amazing. Thanks for the opportunity you gave me!"
Julia Leuchars, ATC Ambassador 2003, Corran School
"I wish I could be an Ambassador for ages."
Lucy Ellis, ATC Ambassador 2003, Carmel College
"I am writing to express our appreciation for the Ambassador’s programme you run for school students and for the education packs and extra support you offer. Our students at
Dilworth School all come from disadvantaged backgrounds and many have never been to live theatre before. Their experiences coming to plays put on by Auckland Theatre
Company have transformed their feelings and ideas about going to theatre."
Jocelyn Grantham, Learning Support - Dilworth School, 28 February 2002
"The people were great and the shows were awe some. It was wonderful to go to so many shows for free, and experience and learn so much. It was wonderful to meet so many people, young people from Auckland who are as interested in Drama as I am."
Ben, ATC Ambassador 2002, Pukekohe High School
"Wow, it was so fabulous, this programme even helped me come first in Drama at my school, because I reviewed all of the shows I saw with you guys, consequently I got 10 out of 10 for my journal. I had so much fun and everyone was so friendly, open, and quirky; like me. Great environment. Thank you so much! I would do it again and again and again!."
Ihipera, ATC Ambassador 2002, Hato Petera College