Creative Scotland report calls for theatres to produce and tour more

Scottish theatre has a strong buildings infrastructure but is not creating enough product to fill it, according to a comprehensive review of the sector published by Creative Scotland.

The 102-page report identifies touring as the “number one issue” for the theatre community and Creative Scotland. It also reveals a strong, playwright-focused sector which is “highly innovating and competitive, internationally renowned, and nationally specialised”.

According to the review’s conclusions: “In economic terms [theatre in Scotland] is highly developed and functions well, but there is something wrong when there are great buildings but not the work to put in them.”

It adds: “There is a dearth of touring shows for venues across Scotland which are well-equipped and desperate for good quality theatre.”

To counter this, the report recommends reviewing touring companies’ funding to take account of overhead costs, encouraging rural touring networks, encouraging cross-border touring to England, and launching a pilot project for mid-scale touring.

In terms of in-house production, the report reveals that the major building-based theatres have reduced their spend on staging work from 39p in the pound in the 1990s to 29p in the pound in the 2000s. However, it points out that in this time, elements such as educational salaries have been consolidated into core costs. Scotland’s five major producing houses halved the number of in-house productions over the decade, playing 70% fewer dates to similarly reduced audiences. But across the whole sector, audiences are picking up after a recessionary dip, while there is a good geographical spread of venues across Scotland.

The report identifies further problems facing the sector, saying: “The mid-career theatre artist finds it hard to make a living in Scotland, there is an acute skills gap in theatre technicians, and a lack of succession planning at artistic director level.”

It also finds that Scotland’s “much-lauded children’s theatre sector relies on too few people and companies – ‘all icing and no cake’”. It adds: “Structural weaknesses also exist in other theatre strands – Gaelic, BME and physical performance (circus/physical and street theatre).”

The Scottish Theatre Review is the first of a succession of sector reviews into the different performing arts, commissioned by Creative Scotland ahead of designing the detail and content of its move to strategic commissioning for its flexibly funded organisations.

The report can be downloaded from www.creativescotland.org.uk/about/sector-reviews/theatre-sector-review.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster