Industry figures have warned of a tough year ahead for regional theatre with the expected closure of more venues.
However, there are also hopes that the sector will see a rebalancing of public funding in the regions and increased audiences in 2014.
Directors from organisations including Sheffield Theatres and Hampstead Theatre, as well as venue operator Ambassador Theatre Group have stressed the difficult economic climate venues continue to operate within.
Dan Bates, executive director of Sheffield Theatres, said: “It’s going to be a tough year. There’s no doubt about that. At the moment a huge number of organisations are looking at the next three years, writing their arts council submissions.”
ATG’s joint chief executive Rosemary Squire added: “The economic climate is still tough, particularly in the regions, which is a major part of our business. I think it’s going to be little by little that we see these things turn around and audiences coming back.”
Hampstead Theatre executive producer Greg Ripley-Duggan predicted that over the next couple of years “a lot” of theatres would close, but appealed to the industry to step in before this could happen. The venue was recently named London theatre of the year by The Stage after a three-year turn around period in which it went from near-closure and having an audience capacity at 70% in 2010 to 91% audiences last year.
Ripley-Duggan said: “Over the next couple of years you will see a lot of places close but what I think what we [Hampstead Theatre] have demonstrated is that, with a bit of passion, commitment and a bit of serious, crazy energy you can make anywhere work.”
Jeremy Herrin, artistic director of touring theatre company Headlong, said that despite the recent record-breaking box office figures published by the Society of London Theatre, it was important to remember the “different story” in the regions.
He stressed that publicly funded organisations based in London should remember their responsibility to audiences outside of London and not just focus on the capital.
“It’s really important that for those of us that get funded in London it’s not necessarily all about provision for audience members in London, it’s about being funded from London and getting the work out and around the regions,” he said.
Others, such as English Touring Theatre director Rachel Tackley, said they remained hopeful that the bias of public funding towards London could be redressed this year, following the recently announced parliamentary inquiry into the geographical distribution of funding by Arts Council England.
“I’m hoping that regional theatre really makes its mark this year. The arts council is starting to redress the imbalance between London and the regions so I really hope that takes a firm strong step,” she said.
Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans added: “Following the Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report and the parliamentary inquiry that is happening on funding between the regions and London, I’d like to see a positive outcome of that for the regions to rebalance the situation.”
Meanwhile Young Vic artistic director David Lan said that publicly funded theatre was “struggling” and said he hoped 2014 would bring a better understanding of how that part of the sector fed into the commercial theatre.