Thirty thousand free tickets distributed via the internet will help introduce a new, younger-generation audience to live music and theatre.
Chris Smith, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, took the stage at the Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London to welcome the Pounds 2.5 million project, which is part of a joint venture by Roehampton Institute and Aztec, the training and enterprise council for south-west London.
"Not only will young people get the chance to enjoy top class performances free of charge, but thanks to the internet they will also be able to share their experiences and encourage others to join in too," he said.
Anglia Polytechnic University's Ultralab is hosting a website where school pupils preparing to go to a performance, and others who have seen it already, can engage in online discussions and collaborative projects. Children can exchange posties (email), describe their interests on their passport (home page), join chat rooms and display their schoolwork online. The site runs on Oracle software and was designed by 19-year old Alex Blanc, a Kingston University student.
New Generation Audiences is the brainchild of Peter Maher, who scribbled the idea on a concert programme when he and his wife Marge, a teacher, found themselves surrounded by 400 empty seats at a Royal Festival Hall concert. Mr Maher is executive director of The Learning Circuit, a partnership between Aztec, Roehampton Institute, local education authorities and the private sector whose main work to date has been the introduction of information and communication technology in south-west London schools.
A pilot NGA scheme involving 42 children has been running for two weeks. National coverage is planned by March 2000.
Schools thatwhich have regularly engaged in the NGA's online learning community will win reward points called Smiles which qualify them for extra tickets. There are also incentives for pupils. Each month Britannia Music will award CDs worth Pounds 100 to a young music critic, plus another Pounds 100-worth for their school. For the first month, Britannia threw in three extra prizes, naming four pupils from St Luke's school, Lambeth as equal winners. Eleven year old Elly Nyanja was enthused by a Royal Festival Hall programme that included Weber, Tchaikovsky and Massenet. He wrote: "I'd recommend this to people who hate classical music, this is because classical music has rhythm just as good as dance music, it just has a quieter pitch."
Mr Maher says the venture has attracted support worth more than Pounds 2.5 million. Almost all of this is in kind, apart from Pounds 100,000 from the Arts Council's New Audiences initiative which is paying administrative costs and salaries. Arts organisations were quick to offer free tickets, even after Mr Maher explained that 24 hours' notice would not give schools time for preparatory study, and that eight weeks was more preferable.
Among those contributing tickets or support are Birmingham Symphony Hall, Leicester''s De Montfort Hall, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal National Theatre, Royal National Theatre and the Young Vic.
Supporters from outside the performing arts include the Design Council, FA Premier League Hall of Fame and London Zoo. Media sponsors include Classic FM and The Times Educational Supplement.