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Producer Karl Sydow warns of ‘frightening’ lack of financial support for regional theatre

Karl Sydow. Photo: Panda Cox Karl Sydow. Photo: Panda Cox
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Dirty Dancing producer Karl Sydow has warned that theatre outside London is receiving a “frightening” lack of funding and support.

Sydow, who serves on the board of theatre company Out of Joint and often produces the company’s touring shows, told The Stage that government cuts to arts funding had hit regional theatres the hardest.

He said: “When you go out in the regions it is frightening now, because they don’t get the support they used to get. Subsidy has been heavily cut back. The cost of doing everything has gone up, the risk of doing it has become that much greater.”

Speaking at the h.Club 100 awards at the Hospital Club, the producer also stressed the importance of encouraging audiences to take risks on new work, warning that “otherwise everything dries up and we go nowhere”.

He added: “I’m glad to have something as successful as Dirty Dancing so I can take all of that and put it into something as risky as doing a brand new play.”

Claiming that original work is a risk because people are reluctant to buy tickets when they do not already know a show, Sydow said venues in the regions were not well enough funded to market new shows properly.

“Theatres don’t have the money to help. They don’t have the money to market it, they don’t have the money to explain, they don’t have the money for education,” he said.

He added: “It is tough to keep theatre alive in cities [outside London] now, and that’s not right.”

Sydow, who has also produced Sinatra at the London Palladium, went on to denounce the term ‘subsidy’, highlighting that the theatre industry as a whole pays a large amount of tax in addition to receiving public funding.

He said: “It’s simple mathematics: the VAT I pay on the ticket sales for Dirty Dancing? The tax I pay on the profit, that we all do? We subsidise. We don’t get subsidy. We pay in infinitely more money that we ever get.”

Speaking about the government’s recent announcement that all departments have to budget for cuts of up to 40%, Sydow asked: “How do they expect anything to carry on? With Out of Joint, we carried on, we kept doing things, we found other ways. But the more we’re successful at that, the more certain people say ‘Look, we don’t need to subsidise them’.”

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