The theatre industry’s fightback was raised to a new level yesterday (21 May 2020) as, after more than two months of enforced venue closures, leaders united and coordinated efforts to pressure the government for further support, including an extension of the employee furlough and self-employed schemes and a cash injection to help companies through to reopening.
NEWS: Industry leaders launch coordinated effort to lobby for government support – with a rousing argument made by playwright @mrjamesgraham on #bbqt – & welcome new @DCMS taskforce for Cultural Recovery. #theatrelockdown #ST #coronacrisisuk
Leading industry figures appeared across the media to underscore the perilous state of an industry “on the brink of collapse”, with forecasts that some 70% of theatre companies would close by the end of the year without more support in the face of zero income. Media spots included impresario Sonia Friedman in the Telegraph, Royal Court and Sheffield Theatres artistic directors Vicky Featherstone and Robert Hastie on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, Society of London Theatre’s chief executive Julian Bird on Front Row and award-winning playwright and screenwriter James Graham on BBC Question Time (generating a social media frenzy of support).
“There is no real, viable social distancing model to get audiences safely back into theatres.”
— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) May 21, 2020
Also yesterday, in an indication that cries of distress are being heard, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) appointed Landmark Trust’s Neil Mendoza as a new Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal as well as a taskforce to advise on solutions. Members of the new Entertainment and Events Working Group, which will work with organisations including the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and Arts Council England, include Martha Lane Fox, Tamara Rojo and Ambassador Theatre Group CEO Mark Cornell.
Neil Mendoza said:
“Our culture holds us together. Arts, music, theatre, museums and heritage and culture in all its other forms are a vital part of people’s lives up and down the country. Our outstanding creativity and arts excellence sets an example for the world. The people that work in cultural sectors want to work, to help continue to support and inspire their communities. DCMS intends to help them do just that through this pandemic and be ready for renewal once social distancing is over.
– No budget assigned to cultural recovery
– ‘What @DCMS is doing brilliantly is talking to every single part of the sector weekly’
– ‘Cultural orgs should prepare for all sorts of potential outcomes’
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) May 21, 2020
Industry welcomes taskforce
The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre issued a joint statement welcoming the Entertainment and Events Working Group. Chief executive Julian Bird said:
“We have been liaising closely with our members and then with DCMS to ensure that the complex needs of theatre are understood. Theatre currently has no income coming in and over 70% of our venues will run out of cash by the end of the year if we are not able to find an alternative model to social distancing. The formation of this taskforce is critical.”
SOLT have set up three working groups with representatives from freelancers and organisations across the broad theatre and performing arts industry to ensure that they have practical and workable solutions to feed into the new working group in conversation with Public Health England and other specialists. The groups will be expanded as necessary but, currently, the key focuses are:
- Rehearsals and pre-production
- Operating venues safely
Theatre and the performing arts make a powerful contribution to society and to national identity. Theatre is at the heart of communities across the UK and makes areas richer both culturally and financially. The shared experience and feelgood factor of a night at the theatre is part of the UK’s cultural identity and enhances well-being.
The current situation has had a devastating impact on the sector. Theatre employs over 290,000 people, and currently, over 70% of those jobs are at risk and many theatres are facing a perilous future. Across the UK, over 34 million people visit theatres each year generating ticket revenue of £1.2 billion.
In order to survive, the industry needs to work together with national and local government on a solution that allows theatres to open safely, so audiences and staff feel confident and theatres can continue to entertain and inspire people as they have been doing for hundreds of years.