The Arts in the UK are in danger as a result the Covid 19 pandemic. With no financial support from the UK government to protect them whilst they have been closed and unable to rely on the majority of their income streams and no clear indication as to when live performances might be able to resume the future of the arts looks bleak.
There have already been devastating consequences. Nuffield Southampton Theatres have had to permanently close both its theatres. Theatre Royal Plymouth, one of the UK’s largest producing houses is facing making 100 of their 350 staff redundant, losing their entire artistic team. Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre are having to make redundancies of 65% of their workforce. Theatre Royal Newcastle face job losses for 44 of its 89 staff. National Theatre are also looking at staff redundancies of up to 30% of its staff. As well as redundancies from other big employers such as ATG, Cameron Mackintosh and Cirque du Soleil. These are just a few of the losses so far and without urgent funding many more will follow.
These redundancies also do not account for the fact that up to 70% of theatre workers are self-employed freelancers, including actors, singers, directors, writers, set and costume designers, lighting designers, sound designers, choreographers, musical directors, musicians, dancers, stage managers, sound and lighting technicians, the very people responsible for putting everything that you pay to see onto the stage. Freelancers are at the heart of the theatre industry with other roles including drama facilitators, theatre photographers, BSL interpreters, audio describers and many more. Not everyone has been able to qualify for the governments financial support schemes and with them due to be phased out potentially before theatres can safely reopen for live performances these freelancers are having to make difficult financial and career decisions about their futures in the industry. Companies and venues needing to make redundancies also have no idea when or if they’ll be able to take on more (or rather regain) staff in the future providing more doubt for many whether they can continue to work in the industry.
What’s more theatres and arts venues cannot become economically viable with stringent social distancing policies restricting their audience capacity. Public safety is of course paramount, no one is debating that, no venue or company would wish to risk their employees and audiences’ health and to do so would risk further closures. They are fully appreciative of the dangers and why measures are in place but they are also aware that they cannot survive on thin air.
Theatregoers have also declared that they would not feel safe going to the theatre any time soon. There are many discussions about how social distancing would work in the auditoriums, bars and cafes and how theatregoers could safely use the facilities. However, it is a simple fact that until auditoriums can be at 50%- 60% and above capacity venues won’t make money and who knows when this may be possible. Or what state our theatres and other arts venues will be in by then with more and more shows needing to be cancelled and many theatres, especially recieving houses, knowing they won’t be opening until next year.
This would also mean that theatres would lose out on what is their most lucrative time of the year over the festive period. Pantomime season is when theatre makes it’s most money as audience numbers swell and whole families and large groups fill the theatre. Peter Rowe, Artistic Director at New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich told Fergus Morgan for The Stage that “our pantomime is the one show every year that actually makes a profit. Last year, it made about £350,000. We need that big injection of funds. If we cannot do it this financial year we will be looking at some significant redundancies.” He goes on to say that whenever they will be allowed to reopen they will be reopening with a pantomime for that cash boost and also the way it brings the community together.
Job losses on such a large scale and workers in the arts facing future job uncertainty as competition for limited opportunities increases also negatively impacts diversity within the arts industry. Groups that are underrepresented in the arts as workers and audience members for example BIPOC, Trans, D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled people who have been fighting a long, slow battle for equality and parity potentially now face further setbacks, which simply cannot happen. The arts need to be proactive with addressing the issues of equality, inclusion, representation and accessibility for both its workers and audiences as society calls for change. Class will also be a factor in who can continue to work in the arts. All of these issues will also shape what future audiences might look like as this pandemic has left many in financial difficulty meaning the price of a ticket to a show might not be affordable for many people.
Even if you do not care for the theatre or think that it will be no great loss (it will, but more on that next time) this is not just about theatres, it’s the arts as a whole, particularly live performance. Ballet, dance, opera, choirs, gigs, concerts, grass roots music venues, cabaret, recitals, orchestras, singers, comedy, stand up, festivals, drag shows, poetry. There’ll be something that you would miss. That you are missing. Which are all under threat.
Whilst the UK government have claimed that they care about the arts and see it as a fundamental part of the economy and within society little has been done that can actually help live performance industries from being decimated before our eyes. The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, unveiled a 5 step roadmap for reopening our theatres and other venues but this 5 step plan lacks much needed information and insight.
Nor was there an announcement for desperately needed funding to ensure arts venues, organisations, in-house and freelance workers, the people who make theatre the force that it is, can be protected so that they are not lost before venues can open to larger capacity audiences and start making money again. The government need to understand it’s not just venues that need to be saved but the people who work in the arts. They need to understand that theatre and the arts are not just limited to London and the West End. That regional theatre does not mean less significant when they are at the heart of the industry. They need to listen carefully to leading arts organisations and industry experts, who are desperately calling out, about how our arts can be saved. There has already been too much of a delay and the consequences are mounting daily. The government must save the arts NOW. Our arts simply cannot survive if they are being starved of income.
What can you do to help:
Sign this online petition calling on Rishi Sunak to save the arts in the UK.
Write to your MP to ask them stand up for the arts and pressure Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Oliver Dowdon into providing funding to save our arts. Contact Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Oliver Dowden yourself too. What’s On Stage have tips on how to write to your MP or Public Campaign for the Arts have draft letters you can adapt.
Support and share online campaigns such as Public Campaign For The Arts a group of more than 80,000 members of the public who need the arts to survive. #WeShallNotBeRemoved an alliance of D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled artists, organisations and practitioners ensuring their voices are not lost in the wake of the pandemic. As well as #FreelancersMakeTheatreWork which advocates for freelancers working in the arts and highlights their importance and right to assistance. And this call to action from The Stage https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/the-stages-message-to-government-act-now-to-save-theatre
More than 50 theatres across the country will be covered in pink tape that reads #MissingLiveTheatre in support of #SceneChange a group that helps support designers through this pandemic.
Spread awareness of what is happening across the arts industries.
Since this post was first published The Stage have also announced that they are facing redundancies. You can help support them should you wish with a subscription.
If you have the means (I know times are tough financially for many people) continue to book for shows that are being sold and still hoping to go ahead later in the year and next year.
If a show you were due to see this year is cancelled, again if financially possible, ask for it to be credited to your account or if you can for it to be donated to the theatre.
Further reading and sources: