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Our industry is in crisis – again – the government must act now to save it

December 2021. 

A Covid tidal wave is crashing into us. Theatres are faced once again with critical and tough restrictions despite robust measures in place to keep their staff and audiences safe. The situation is dire and deteriorating.

The number of Covid cases reported on Wednesday was the highest yet during the pandemic. You read that right: the highest ever during these long two years. 

In the meantime, Twitter is just a series of cancellations scrolling across the screen while a voiceover recites the words “brink … precipice … abyss … void …” repeatedly.

Speaking of voids, Nadine Dorries has been charged with safeguarding the nation’s cultural heart at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Culture Wars Minister who once said lefties are “dumbing down panto”.  Nadine, despite several days of training on I’m A Celebrity for her new role, gives an immediate impression of total skulduggery. Where is she?

The RSC Matilda The Musical
The RSC Matilda The Musical

Like a section of cliff face crumbling into the sea, West End shows including Hamilton, The Lion King, Cabaret, Six and many more across the UK have had to cancel performances owing to variant Omicron outbreaks among cast and crew. This week the National Theatre cancelled a preview of its Christmas show Hex, which is based on Sleeping Beauty, after one of its lead actors caught Covid.

In a statement, the National’s artistic director, Rufus Norris, wrote: “You will no doubt be aware of the impact that Covid has been having on productions across the industry (none of ours over the last year have escaped entirely) but the impact on Hex has been considerable, with several members of the company including one of our leads being taken ill during the technical and preview period, and fresh bad news on that front again today.”

The government is frightening everyone into staying home but not providing support for affected businesses.

Our post-apocalyptic Prime Minister’s shambolic messaging (“Think carefully before you go…”) is costing the entertainment and hospitality industry billions of pounds during a period that should nurture audiences, provides work for freelancers and enable venues’ other activities. 

Even so, no additional support has yet been offered to the sector. Without intervention, we’ll lose more talent as well as theatres. And everyone seems angry, all the time. Hell, one audience member was handcuffed and arrested during an Adam Kay show at Rose Theatre on Tuesday night after he refused to wear a mask properly. 

Dear dear.

Vital industries continue to be let down. Again. When grilled on the ongoing ineptitude the government point to their ‘unprecedented support’ for the culture sector through the £2bn culture recovery fund. That money has long been and continues to be burnt through. 

The crisis is far from over; it seems unfathomable that the abandoning of restrictions on so-called Freedom Day and 20 months of Covid chaos has left us at five minutes to midnight. But here we are.

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Good Friday? Culture Recovery Fund – Round 2

God, I miss theatre.

Today, more than 2,700 arts organisations have been supported in the latest tranche of Culture Recovery Fund money, totalling £400 million.

Indeed, in his Budget in March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a further £300m for the fund, which is yet to be allocated.

The government said 70% of today’s funding was being distributed outside London.  The big plus point here was that more than 1,200 organisations received support from the emergency arts funding scheme for the first time.

The funding includes £81m in loans including £4.25m to Saddler’s Wells and £7.3m to The Lowry in Salford.

I hope you have been paying attention. Because the thing about this government is that it moved with the same speed and grace rescuing the cultural sector in 2020 as that container ship which got wedged in the Suez Canal.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said thousands of organisations had had help to “survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced.”

He added: “Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back – helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in better times ahead.”

Of course, it is still sinister that the government is forcing arts venues across the country to publicly sing its praises once again.

Slytherin Oliver Dowden at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Slytherin Oliver Dowden at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

I’m also obsessed with the fact that Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) which runs more than 30 UK venues, will receive almost £1m. 

Bizarrely, a number of organisations owned by extremely wealthy individuals will receive taxpayer handouts.

And last month five cases of fraud were discovered among Culture Recovery Fund applications that led to a number of award offers being withdrawn, a report by the National Audit Office claimed; some applicants were awarded funding “significantly in excess” of their income the previous year.

Anyway, let us not forget that theatres played an important role in communities everywhere pre-2020. More than 34 million people attend theatres in the UK each year, generating £1.28 billion in ticket revenue.

And lo. Theatres are allowed to reopen on May 17  for socially distanced performances – this will be a hugely welcome first step.

All eyes are on June 21 as set out in the UK Government’s roadmap, later this summer for all restrictions being dropped.  Let’s see.

But there is still the small issue of ongoing mutations, vaccine passports and testing. This will be key to reopening all of society.

However…

The idea of forcing people to show vaccine passports to enter theatres and concerts is likely to be counterproductive and is literally not a good idea.

Dowden said on Andrew Marr recently that more pilots would begin from the middle of April to look at things like ventilation, one-way systems and tests on how the virus spreads at indoor and outdoors.

PILOTS?!

At best, then, the success of the vaccine rollout and the better weather in the summer months will be vital factors.

The big institutions may today be safe, but the talented freelance workforce who set the stage alight are largely self-employed and have been hung out to dry.

Thanks, Oliver. Thanks for everything.

Full list of performing arts organisations given CRF money in round two

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Theatre will bounce back – hope can take us a long way

Emilia

I am in shock as to what has happened to my industry and wondering what the future holds.

This week, Entertainment venues in England were forced to close again, as the UK moved back into tougher national measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. Dozens of theatres have abandoned plans to reopen and venues are now closed till at least December 2.

We are currently at Level 2 on the government’s road map to reopening live performance venues. Thankfully, performers and performances are permitted to rehearse, record and film “behind closed doors” but not play to a live audience.

A spokesperson for DCMS said that the government is “committed to getting the curtain up at venues across the country as soon as it is safe to do so.

I read all this with sinking despair.

There has, though, been a wealth of innovation exploring the potential of online streaming. Productions with the budget and capability have proven that streaming can provide a cash boost as well as reach wider audiences.

Money can be made out of streaming ambitious new and archive productions: The Old Vic plans to live-stream A Christmas Carol from the theatre’s empty auditorium. A recording of Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s Emilia is available to stream from next week on a pay-what-you-decide basis, which is terrific.

Theatres have had the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. The majority of this summer was spent Covid-proofing premises and welcoming back audiences safely with invention.

For the first time, we have had to draw on energy that we never knew we had, if we had given up at any hurdles then nothing would have happened. But, not even the scientists or the government know how things will pan out – theatres need a reopening date.

#WeMakeEvents demo at Parliament Square

#WeMakeEvents demo at Parliament Square

The government has been urged to do more to support performers and other arts freelancers; many are still excluded. The National Audit Office reported last month that up to 2.9 million people had fallen through the cracks of furlough and SEISS schemes.

This week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed further extensions of the furlough and self-employed support schemes. But this followed thousands of unnecessary redundancies in the arts. The government’s handling of this pandemic has revealed how woefully incompetent they are.

There has been no real time for reflection throughout the devastation of both lockdowns, the rules of theatre have been rewritten on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we can’t set our calendars to a vaccine or testing.

We must be patient, and find ways to stay sane and creative.

Now, the time has come to stop living on past glories, theatres have been around before us and they will be there long after we are gone. The pandemic has given us all the short sharp shock we perhaps needed to develop a proper perspective on life.

So, how long is this going to go on for?  And more to the point, where are we headed?

Crave

Personal highlights for me have been Nottingham Playhouse’s wonderful Unlocked season, Crave streaming from Chichester Festival Theatre (I know!)

In Leeds, Slung Low continue to deliver their invaluable Cultural Community College and food bank service.

Special mention must also go to Sonia Friedman, who reunited a Covid-dispersed Uncle Vanya cast for cinemas.

Many, many people are continuing to create brilliant work and have revealed a readiness to respond to these troubling times.

As we head into a long and uncertain winter, now might be the time to rethink how to share out dwindling resources to benefit all. Building greater resilience, capacity and sustainability is key.

2020 has been the most dramatic, life-changing and traumatic years in modern history.

Personally, I have never been more exhausted.

As I write, it is early November. Joe Biden has won the US presidency by clinching Pennsylvania after days of painstaking vote counting.

We can have an understanding of yesterday, a plan for today and we can have hope for forever, and that’s it.

Hope can take us a long way.

 

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Shakespeare’s Globe, Royal Exchange in Manchester, the Lady Boys of Bangkok are among the latest recipients of emergency government arts funding.

The Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester, The Mayflower in Southampton and Fabric nightclub in London are among the cultural institutions to receive at least £1m in the latest round of grants from the government’s £1.57bn cultural recovery fund.

In total, £75m will be given to 35 organisations, including theatres, museums, music venues and dance companies, among them Rambert (£1.28m), Sadler’s Wells (£2.9m) and the English National Ballet (£3m).

The arts sector has suffered significantly due to COVID-19 restrictions, with many venues closed and many creatives unable to work.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the “vital funding” would secure the recipients’ futures and “protect jobs right away”.

“These places and organisations are irreplaceable parts of our heritage and what make us the cultural superpower we are,” he said.

The culture secretary visited the Design Museum, another recipient, earlier this week

The government said the grants were being awarded “to places that define culture in all corners of the country”.

Grant recipients in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be announced separately by their devolved administrations.

More than £500m has now been allocated from the Culture Recovery Fund to almost 2,500 cultural organisations and venues.

But the £1.57bn emergency arts fund has come too late to save hundreds of talented people from losing their jobs.

Full list of performing arts organisations 

Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust – £3,000,000
English National Ballet – £3,000,000
Newcastle Theatre Royal Trust – £3,000,000
Norwich Theatre – £3,000,000
The Mayflower Theatre Trust – £3,000,000
The Old Vic Theatre Trust – £3,000,000
Shakespeare’s Globe – £2,985,707
Sadler’s Wells – £2,975,000
The ACC Liverpool Group Limited – £2,972,659
Royal Exchange Theatre Company Ltd – £2,854,444
Performances Birmingham Limited – £2,534,675
BH Live – £2,499,531
Leeds Theatre Trust Limited (Playhouse) – £2,381,547
Sheffield Theatres Trust Ltd – £2,246,000
Northampton Theatres Trust (Royal and Derngate) – £2,112,891
Theatre Royal (Plymouth) Ltd – £1,896,000
North Music Trust (Sage Gateshead) – £1,800,000
Adlib Audio Limited – £1,650,356
Hull City Council – £1,615,725
Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd – £1,545,163
Bill Kenwright Limited – £1,526,028
Fabric Life Ltd – £1,514,262
Birmingham Repertory Theatre – £1,380,023
Rambert – £1,283,835
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre 1982 Ltd – £1,187,530
Exchange Events Ltd (Gandey Productions) – £1,092,503
Lights Control Rigging Productions Ltd – £1,076,179
The Octagon Theatre Trust – £620,232

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Revealed: Grants of up to £3 million as part of applying government support package

Better late than never: Arts organisation will finally  be able to apply for grants of up to £3 million as part of the government’s surprise £1.57 billion support package.

The money will be shared out between theatres, independent cinemas and other arts organisations to help them stay in business while coronavirus forces them to remain closed.

Successful applicants for grants will need to submit an “innovative plan” for how they will operate and be sustainable for the remainder of this financial year, and be able to demonstrate their international, national or local significance.

In the first round of funding, grants totalling £622 million will be distributed to cultural organisations, which is absolutely ideal. 

Arts Council England will oversee £500 million to support theatres, music and comedy venues and museums. This includes a previously announced allocation of £2.25 million in targeted emergency support for grassroots music venues.

Smaller organisations will be asked to demonstrate how they benefit their local community.

Additionally, the British Film Institute will distribute grants totalling £30 million to independent cinemas and the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England will deliver £92 million worth of grants to protect heritage sites.

A further £258 million will be reserved for a second round of funding later in the year “to meet the developing needs of organisations”.

This announcement accounts for £880 million of the previously announced £1.57 billion support package.

Full details of how organisations can apply for the grants will be published by ACE, the British Film Institute and Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

A new independent Culture Recovery Board has been set up, chaired by businessman Damon Buffini, to help administer the programme and decide the beneficiaries of the £270 million repayable finance element of the £1.57 billion package.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Help is on the way to our much loved cultural and heritage organisations with our £1.57 billion fund.

Oliver Dowden

“This support package will protect buildings, organisations and people to help ensure our wonderful institutions, big and small, pull through Covid.

“Today we’re publishing guidance so organisations know how to access help. We’re also calling on organisations to be creative in diversifying their income streams and the public to continue supporting the places they love so this funding can be spread as far and wide as possible.”

Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England, said ACE was “pleased to be administering this vital investment from government, which will help ensure as many organisations as possible survive the existential challenge posed by Covid-19 so they can continue to serve their communities safely in the future”.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also announced a £500 million scheme to kickstart film and television projects which are struggling to secure insurance for Covid-related costs.

The funding will be available to productions made by companies where at least half of the production budget is spent in the UK, and is estimated to cover more than 70% of the film and TV production market to the end of the year.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “The UK’s film and TV industry is the envy of the world, and it’s vital that productions get the help they need to restart as part of our plan to kickstart jobs following the lockdown.

“This targeted scheme, which will help fill the gap created by the lack of available insurance, will help protect tens of thousands of jobs, from actors and directors through to camera operators, costume designers, and runners.

“The sector is worth over £12 billion to the UK’s economy, so it’s right that we do what we can to help them reopen and get back to making the films and shows that we all love.”

The fight to save our sector has only just begun.

 There will be winners and losers.

 

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Guest Blog: ‘I went along to The London Palladium test event and here is what happened.’

Theatres, concert halls and other music venues have been closed due to lockdown measures since the end of March.

When British theatres shut their doors, few could have predicted the devastation caused by coronavirus.

Despite the government’s recent surprise  £1.57bn support package, which many feel came too late, theatres across the UK are being forced to make redundancies – or even to close for good.

 In recent weeks, though, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced plans to open the London Palladium for a test pilot to see how audiences and performers could be welcomed back to the theatre, and get audience members safely back into auditoriums.

It’s no small feat with social-distancing rules in play for the foreseeable future to get any kind of show back on the road. But if anyone can, it’s the one that made a mega-musical about dancing and singing cats: Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

This week I went along to the socially-distanced pilot concert featuring Beverley Knight at The London Palladium, as part of the pilot shows initiative spearheaded by the UK government and Lloyd Webber. 

The process to get these tickets was fairly straightforward: they were free and via the LW Theatre mailing list. I had to wait 24 hours for E-tickets to come through with an allocated time slot for a staggered arrival arrive. There was compulsory mask-wearing and a contactless bag check.  

The COVID-era event opened at 30% capacity, to an audience including the public and industry figures, and to demonstrate strict hygiene methods that can be used to enable UK theatres to reopen.

After E-tickets were scanned, we had our temperatures checked before being welcomed inside – if we were under 38C.

Stepping inside the subdued auditorium and with every second row empty and, seeing every other row of seating entirely marked off, as various other seats to allow for one-metre distancing between each group or “bubble” was heartbreaking at first.

Audiences from the same household could sit together.

However, the atmosphere soon became electric; you could tell that the audience were theatregoers who were emphatic to be back inside a theatre building witnessing live performance.

The Palladium has been kitted out with door handles that use silver ions to kill 99.9% of bacteria. One-way systems were in place throughout the venue, which had been cleaned with antiviral chemical fogging, too.

When the lights went down Lloyd Webber took to the stage.

“I think this amply proves why social distancing in theatre really doesn’t work,” Lloyd Webber said, adding, “It’s a misery for the performers.”

He reinforced the message that theatres cannot operate under current government guidelines. Lloyd Webber stated that Oliver Dowden (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) was doing his ‘best’ and talked about the importance of pantomimes for regional theatres.

He went on to reassure us that people are safer in the venue than they would be on Oxford Street. It became clear that the day wasn’t just about west end theatres, but every theatre across the country.

In this regard, The Palladium – where Knight starred in Lloyd Webber’s Cats in 2015 – is the biggest of the seven London venues in the composer’s LW Theatres group. For this special pilot performance, it held 640 people rather than its usual 2,297 capacity.

After his plea to Boris of ‘give us a date mate’ for theatres to have some idea of when they can open, the lights went down again and Backed by a six-piece band, Beverly Knight took to the stage.

Knight sang ‘Memory’ from the Lloyd Webber musical Cats and things got emotional.

Memory, all alone in the moonlight.

I can dream of the old days, life was beautiful then.

I remember, the time I knew what happiness was.

Let the memory live again.

It was as if the song was written today – and about the current situation we all find ourselves in, and many (including myself) shed a tear. 

Anyway, it was incredible to be back in a theatre and Beverly Knight put on a wonderful concert. I’m not 100% sure that this pilot will make any significant  difference in relation to theatres and their future. But it is step in the right direction.

It was poignant to see first-hand the impact of what it would mean to re-open under the current government guidelines, and to that I say, it would be more of a risk of financial ruin than remaining closed. 

Lloyd Webber called on the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give a more specific indication of when performing arts venues can reopen. “Give us a date,” he urged.

I hope that with the success of this pilot performance the government will start taking the industry seriously and provide a date for when theatres can finally open their doors to full houses.

By Craig Legg

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The Show Must Go On merchandise raises £250,000 for arts charities

After phenomenal public demand for ‘The Show Must Go On!’ t-shirts, Theatre Support Fund + has reached an incredible milestone by raising a huge quarter of a million pounds for Acting For Others, The Fleabag Support Fund and NHS COVID-19 Urgent Appeal.

 

Theatre Support Fund + was set up eight weeks ago by theatre industry workers Chris Marcus and Damien Stanton who wanted to form an initiative to help individual workers who are now out of work due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. They created and designed ‘The Show Must Go On!’ t-shirt, the design of which is an amalgamation of the world-famous artwork of 16 of the biggest musicals in the West End. Since Theatre Support Fund’s inception the team have received 20,000 orders and have shipped to 63 countries across the globe. The orders are being packed daily by a small team of volunteers from within the West End theatre community. All profits from merchandise sold goes to Acting for Others, Fleabag Support Fund and the NHS Covid-19 Urgent Appeal.

Chris and Damien said today, ‘We are incredibly overwhelmed with the generosity and support people have given to the theatre industry and with the government announcing arts funding last week, it is all moving in a very positive direction. However there are still individuals out there that need our help and we will continue to unite and work together to raise monies for these charities to help all of those that have been affected from the pandemic until the theatre industry is up and running again’.

Since the charities inception they have also gathered a fantastic celebrity following which includes Michael Ball, Samantha Bond, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Alan Carr, Dame Judi Dench, Todrick Hall, Amanda Holden, Derick Jacobi, Myleene Klass, Kiera Knightly, Beverley Knight, Patti LuPone, Sarah Parish, Melanie Sykes and Denise Welch amongst others.

 

Pheobe Waller-Bridge who is the figurehead for The Fleabag Fund said today “These shirts must go on!” A massive thank you to Theatre Support Fund for supporting Fleabag Support Fund and other wonderful charities with this incredible range of merchandise’.

The shirt design is an amalgamation of the world-famous artwork of 16 of the biggest musicals in the West End. Shows included on the design are & Juliet, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Everyone’s Talking about Jamie, Hamilton, Les Misérables, Mamma Mia!, Mary Poppins, Matilda The Musical, Six The Musical, Tina, The Tina Turner Musical, The Book of Mormon, The Prince of Egypt, The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked.

In addition to the t-shirt, merchandise now includes a re-useable face covering, notebook, mug, badge and tote bag. All profits from merchandise sold goes to Acting for Others , Fleabag Support Fund and the NHS Covid-19 Urgent Appeal. All of ‘The Show Must Go On!’ merchandise continues to be available via the website www.theatresupportfund.co.uk.

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£1.5bn lifeline thrown to theatre & arts institutions

£1.57 billion investment to protect Britain’s world-class cultural, arts and heritage institutions

·       Cultural and heritage organisations to be protected with £1.57 billion support package

·       Future of Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues will be protected with emergency grants and loans

·       Funding will also be provided to restart construction work at cultural and heritage sites paused as a result of the pandemic

Britain’s globally renowned arts, culture and heritage industries will receive a world-leading £1.57 billion rescue package to help weather the impact of coronavirus, the government announced today.

Thousands of organisations across a range of sectors including the performing arts and theatres, heritage, historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema will be able to access emergency grants and loans.

The money, which represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture, will provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations across the country hit hard by the pandemic. It will help them stay afloat while their doors are closed. Funding to restart paused projects will also help support employment, including freelancers working in these sectors.

Many of Britain’s cultural and heritage institutions have already received unprecedented financial assistance to see them through the pandemic including loans, business rate holidays and participation in the coronavirus job retention scheme. More than 350,000 people in the recreation and leisure sector have been furloughed since the pandemic began.

This new package will be available across the country and ensure the future of these multi billion-pound industries are secured.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK’s cultural industry is the beating heart of this country.

“This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”

Oliver Dowden Culture Secretary said

“Our arts and culture are the soul of our nation. They make our country great and are the lynchpin of our world-beating and fast growing creative industries.

“I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations. Today we are announcing a huge support package of immediate funding to tackle the funding crisis they face. I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.”

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer said:

“Our world-renowned galleries, museums, heritage sites, music venues and independent cinemas are not only critical to keeping our economy thriving, employing more than 700,000 people, they’re the lifeblood of British culture.

“That’s why we’re giving them the vital cash they need to safeguard their survival, helping to protect jobs and ensuring that they can continue to provide the sights and sounds that Britain is famous for.”

The package announced today includes funding for national cultural institutions in England and investment in cultural and heritage sites to restart construction work paused as a result of the pandemic. This will be a big step forward to help rebuild our cultural infrastructure.

This unprecedented package includes:

£1.15 billion support pot for cultural organisations in England delivered through a mix of grants and loans. This will be made up of £270 million of repayable finance  and £880 million grants.

£100 million of targeted support for the national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust.

£120 million capital investment to restart construction on cultural infrastructure and for heritage construction projects in England which was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new funding will also mean an extra £188 million for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33 million), Scotland (£97 million) and Wales (£59 million).

Decisions on awards will be made working alongside expert independent figures from the sector including the Arts Council England and other specialist bodies such as Historic England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.

Repayable finance will be issued on generous terms tailored for cultural institutions to ensure they are affordable. Further details will be set out when the scheme opens for applications in the coming weeks.