Sonia Friedman’s words in The Telegraph last week, about the perils facing the theatre industry, make for uncomfortable reading. Let’s look at the stats:
- 70 per cent of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year
- More than 1,000 theatres around the country will be insolvent and might shut down for good
- Sonia Friedman Productions has shut down and suspended over 18 productions globally in 10 weeks
- Arts and cultural organisations have lost 95 per cent of their income
- The three-month shutdown has meant £330 million of income lost
- Closure will six to nine months. It could even be a year or more
Whilst the impact, both short and long term is clearly devastating, there are still concerns about going back to the status quo. Sonia Friedman Productions (SFP) is a profitable, well-known production company that has its pick of West End theatres and benefits from the £2 billion that theatres add to the capital’s critical tourism sector as well an international presence.
It’s naive to think Covid will be the death of many theatres, not just an accelerator of things to come. Fringe, in particular, had few reserves and was increasingly approaching an oversaturated market with supply nobody demanded. The West End and other larger theatres should be able to survive this gap, but regionally Nuffield Theatres in Southampton and a theatre in Stockport have gone into administration and increasingly there is no guarantee that theatres, such as National Theatre, which can attract the biggest names will be able to survive without having to make staff redundant, particularly as furlough is potentially eased for employers across the country.
Gradually the awareness that there will be long term consequences seems to be seeping through. There is more acknowledgement that theatre will not bounce back, with this comment piece and James Graham’s upcoming Question Time appearance to highlight the struggles and needs a large cash injection but there also needs to be acknowledgement that the system cannot continue. A system that even know is encouraging funding applications at a period where there are no productions to fund but the people behind them. A system that seemingly encouraged people to fund and then lose money so they could say how active they were for arts council funding only to do it all over again.
We need to use this time wisely. As audience members, what do we want to see; as creatives, what can be made. If the expectations don’t match, then audiences won’t be back.
I hope theatre and other cultural hubs can bounce back from this, but that cannot do that without government support, which is bound to have terms and conditions attached.