The Stage has launched a nationwide campaign, in partnership with the Theatrical Management Association and Equity, aimed at galvanising support for theatres across the UK.
My Theatre Matters! has a dedicated website where audiences can voice their support for their theatre, sign up to the campaign and download information about how to lobby politicians to convince them to continue funding theatres in their area.
The campaign comes in response to a series of major cuts in local government funding for theatres, as councils find themselves under budgetary pressure. It will target audiences, calling on them to express why their theatre matters to them and to encourage politicians to do the same.
Brian Attwood, editor of The Stage, explained: “Many theatres are facing reductions, and in some cases 100% cuts, in support from their local authorities. It is the single biggest threat currently facing our industry. One need only look to see what has happened in Taunton, Sheffield, Newcastle and even in Westminster to see that this is a national problem facing theatres up and down the country. While there are many enlightened councils out there who continue to support their theatres, we fear there will also be many who see them as an easy target at a time of cuts.
“We need to show that theatres aren’t an easy target – they are public services that are really valued by their audiences.”
My Theatre Matters! will be publicised in theatres across the UK, with actors giving curtain call speeches encouraging theatregoers to lend their support, while, thanks to the support of John Good, theatre programmes will feature information about the campaign. The Stage will also be running regular features about the threats, and opportunities, theatres across the country are currently faced with.
TMA president Rachel Tackley said: “It seems theatres are increasingly seen by decision makers as a luxury, not the beating heart of a community providing benefits for everyone from cradle to grave. Ask a councillor what they associate with the word ‘theatre’, and most would probably say words associated with fun, entertain-ment and enjoyment. That’s no bad thing, but as the purse strings get tighter and tighter, they need to know how much their communities value the economic, social and educational impact of their investment in local theatres.
“My Theatre Matters! is designed to help real people tell their stories about how important their theatre is to their life, and help them be heard. If we all shout loud enough, we can ensure theatres get the investment they need to play their full role in safeguarding and revitalising our communities in these challenging times.”
The campaign will provide theatres with the tools to help inform their audiences about the importance of public funding for theatre and turn them into advocates to rally MPs and council leaders. They will be encouraged to send a postcard to their council, saying how much they value its investment in their local theatre, and to sign up to a nationwide campaign online so that they can be contacted in the future about funding threats in their own area or nationally.
Equity president Malcolm Sinclair added: “The relation-ship between actor and audience is the essence of theatre, so it seems to me to be entirely appropriate that the My Theatre Matters! campaign should be about mobilising audiences to defend their theatres from cuts. I hope every Equity member will get behind this campaign – but especially those currently working in theatre. This is about our right to work. If we won’t campaign to save theatres, who will?”
Newcastle has been one of the cities that was recently faced with a potential 100% cut to its arts funding from its local council. However, following a concerted campaign, the cut was halved.
Philip Bernays, chief executive of the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, told The Stage that such campaigns to protect funding can make a real difference, and encouraged people to sign up to My Theatre Matters!.
He said: “What we’ve been able to prove in Newcastle is that actually people do value their theatres and cultural organisations, but it does take a little bit of effort to get them to say that to the funders – be that local authorities, central government or other funders.
“A campaign like this, that can mobilise that sort of groundswell of support, will be really valuable.”
As well as The Stage, TMA and Equity, supporters of the campaign include the Independent Theatre Council, Creu Cymru, Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, The Theatres Trust and Dance UK. The campaign is sponsored by John Good and Cog Design.