Bill Kenwright says theatres have ‘huge problem’ securing touring shows

Bill Kenwright. Photo: Jon Hall
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Bill Kenwright has denied that the UK’s touring theatre sector is in crisis, but claims the industry is suffering a series of problems that need to be overcome.

Responding to recent concerns that it has become increasingly difficult for producers to tour their shows, the independent producer said major theatres and musical houses were in a better financial position than in previous years.

However, he added that smaller regional playhouses were suffering due to a reduced number of quality shows available to them, and that they were now paying lower guarantee fees to producers.

Speaking at a touring symposium organised by membership body UK Theatre, Kenwright, who also manages the Theatre Royal Windsor, said the venue “cannot get the quality shows, we can’t afford big guarantees, we can’t afford to pay lots of money. It’s incredibly difficult and we rely almost totally on the brochure”.

Kenwright described the government’s new tax relief scheme for theatre as “great news” but said the bigger problem was securing shows for venues.

“When I see smashing new theatres that have come up in the last few years that are now just providing one-nighters, it’s tragic. I don’t know what you do about that – it is a huge, huge problem that we’ve got in finding the product,” said Kenwright.

The producer also warned about the failure of venues to bring in younger theatregoers. He told venue owners to “go out and get” minority audiences that could not afford to come.

He added that booking fees charged to customers on top of ticket prices were “wrong” and that the industry should “do something about them”.

Kenwright also claimed it was currently difficult to secure actors for tours, and that venue operators should be more welcoming to performers willing to appear at their theatres.

“It probably is more difficult to cast a 12 or even an eight-week touring play than it is to cast a West End musical these days. So there’s another problem you’ve got. But when you get them there, look after them,” said Kenwright.

He concluded: “I do know that there are vibrant, energetic, dedicated people at the top of these companies who are trying to make theatre work and that’s what we need. I don’t think theatre is in crisis, but I think we’ve got problems and we can beat those problems together.”