Street theatre company faces closure as cuts bite

A street theatre company that has been operating for more than 40 years is facing closure after losing its regular funding from Arts Council England.

Bath-based Natural Theatre Company, which was formed in 1970, has received money from ACE for 39 years. It was awarded £155,412 in 2010/2011 and £144,689 in 2011/2012. It said this has always made up about one-third of its overall funding and has enabled it to perform work in more than 80 countries around the world.

But the company has warned that its future is at risk after the arts council announced last March it would not be part of its National Portfolio from this year.

As a result, it is having to plan a smaller programme of work and has already had to make four long-term employees redundant, with the remaining three forced to work a four-day week.

In addition, the company said performers who had worked with the company for years were now having to look for work elsewhere.

Ralph Oswick, artistic director at NTC, told The Stage that, although the company’s board had “risen to the challenge and rewritten the business plan”, there was “every risk that we will have to wind up”.

He said that the company did not “intend to go under without a fight”, but warned: “It’s not that simple as many of the bookers, such as local authorities and festivals, have also been cut. I remember looking round at one of the arts council consultations and thinking, even if we ourselves don’t get cut, half the people here are people who book us.”

He added: “What it means is that we have less UK work and cannot afford to stage our annual devising weeks which see all of our 25 performers working together to create new work, which in turn means that there’s a danger of relying on old work, which in turn means fewer bookings.”

Oswick said the company now had no marketing budget, and that it could not afford to hire anyone to run its new youth theatre studio space, which was funded with additional money from ACE.

“We think there is a place for our work, especially at times of universal glumness. People say we have on occasions totally altered their view of the environment, that their high street will never seem the same or, that their child has a new self-confidence after attending our workshops.

“We have taken theatre to the ends of the earth to every possible venue,” he said.

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