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How will theatres evolve in this brave new world?

The West End

The West End

Carousel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre? I had forgotten there was another revival, to be honest.

Selladoor Worldwide announcing it will suspend its 2020 touring productions – shifting the majority of shows to 2021. Couldn’t care less.

Edinburgh Fringe? Thrilled the city’s residents are getting a break from the annual invasion of tourists.

But a survey by U.K. Theatres estimated that almost three-quarters of theatres and producers say they face financial collapse without extra government assistance – with more than 1,000 theatres around the country face insolvency.

That one stopped me in my tracks with a “say it ain’t so?”

A significant number of the theatre world’s staff will be made redundant unless we receive additional financial support from the government.

Producer Sonia Friedman has described the sector as being “on the brink of total collapse” and “obliteration”. Several theatres have already folded, including Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre and Leicester Haymarket.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that he has spoken to Andrew Lloyd Webber about using the experiences from his South Korean production of Phantom of the Opera, which is currently playing to 1,600 people to restart the West End. Dowden also said that ‘drive in opera’ streaming shows to ‘outdoor spaces’ were also ideas that could be pursued.

Playwright James Graham recently appeared on BBC One’s Question Time, making the case for urgent Government support to ensure theatre and its workforce survive the months of closure ahead.

Graham eloquently said that a government support package should not be viewed as a bailout “because it really is an investment”, he went on to stress that theatre will be among the last to restart operations.

The Covid crisis has been a bigger shock to all businesses than the 9/11 terror attacks and the 2008 global financial crisis; what has taken place is a phenomenon known in the insurance industry as an act of God, a rare natural catastrophe that could have happened at any point.

The harsh reality is that public sector debt is on course to hit £2trillion by Christmas, the equivalent of an entire year of British economic output in normal times.

People will lose their jobs and some theatre buildings will close their doors for good.

Ministers have refused to extend bespoke support to the industry, although they are eligible for emergency loans, Arts Council England emergency support grants and the government furlough scheme

The sector faces an uncertain future. But it is waiting for the green light to reopen when restrictions are lifted; social distancing means theatres are no longer viable businesses.

‪According to figures from the Office For National Statistics, the arts and entertainment sector contributes £2.8bn a year to the Treasury whilst providing 363,700 jobs.

These statistics are overused and out of date, though. We need a new approach.

One Man, Two Guvnors has been streamed 2 million times as part of National Theatre at Home

One Man, Two Guvnors has been streamed 2 million times as part of National Theatre at Home

Reopening theatres is not just an economic necessity. Financially, the costs should and could logically be met over the very long-term, contained in a unique account and financed by bonds with a 40-60 year maturity that spread the load sufficiently to allow the theatre world to survive and thrive.

‪But what will the future look like and how will theatre itself survive and adapt ahead of the looming recession?

The cultural sector is more badly positioned than any other in terms of cash in hand. It is also less likely to make a quick recovery. Arts and cultural organisations have lost up to 95 percent of their income that is largely reliant on ticket and bar sales.

We must hope that we cherish anew how essential live theatre and participation is, with all the emotions, wellbeing, and interactions that it cultivates.

Theatre is now available to anyone who wants it – pretty much. If you have an internet connection you can currently see the best of British theatre in comfort with a drink your hand, thanks to the National Theatre at Home streaming service. Nearly 20% of adults are now watching theatre, dance or music during lockdown.

Perhaps the British theatre world will become more open spaces. Fun Palaces, an idea originally put forward by Joan Littlewood supports and promotes the creativity of everyone, not just artists.
Slung Low HQ - the U.Ks oldest working men’s club

Slung Low HQ – the U.Ks oldest working men’s club

Smartest and most interesting of the lot, however, is Slung Low have been operating out of a Working Men’s Club in a deprived area of Leeds. They have been co-ordinating emergency food parcel deliveries to vulnerable people in their community during the pandemic.

In a fascinating blog Slung Low’s artistic director Alan Lane advocates for a fairer system and exposes the insurmountable reality of co-ordinating the community response for Leeds City Council. The reasons the company deserves to be put on a pedestal are the extraordinary efforts and the fact they have, completely to my satisfaction, risen to the occasion.

Progress, people.
As well as that, Slung Low launched an open-air art gallery, continue to stream community classes, hosted a crisis game show weekly and collected people’s prescriptions. Lane and his team of 90 volunteers’ dedication to the local people of Holbeck, as well as their breath-taking solutions to challenges make them one of the great cultural organisations of the modern era.

They should be the blueprint that every publicly funded theatre aims to emulate.

We need to embrace the possibilities that change brings, not hope that the theatre world will get back to normal.

Perhaps with the new, collective knowledge, gained from weeks of isolation, our theatres and arts centres will be truly valued, trusted and, crucially, understood, even more by the communities that they sit in.

This once in a lifetime event gives us a once in a lifetime chance – the question is will we take the chance and seize the opportunities that they bring?