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National Theatre of Scotland may scale back touring after funding cuts

The cast of James I at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh The cast of James I at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
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The National Theatre of Scotland is considering cuts to the number of productions it tours, following its 3% funding reduction in this year’s Scottish budget.

The revelation comes in a written report to the Scottish parliament’s Education and Culture committee, which is to take verbal evidence presented by Scotland’s five national performing companies at a meeting on March 8.

The NTS is directly funded by the Scottish Government, with its core grant being reduced from £4,548,000 in 2010/11 to £4,252,000 in 2014/15.

According to the report: “The impact of a 3% 2016/17 cut, and those mooted beyond that, is a cutback on the number and reach of productions that the company is able to tour across Scotland.”

The NTS’ unique “theatre without walls” model means that it operates with minimal overheads, has a small staff in relation to similar organisations and is “prudent in the extreme” with back-room expenditure.

The report continues: “The opportunity for savings to be found from non-production areas of the company’s operation therefore is slim, and will decrease over the subsequent two years of forecast grant reductions.”

The NTS’ overarching ambition is to reach all parts of Scotland with live theatre and theatre participation opportunities. This means it tours small-scale work to remote communities, as well as taking its high-profile work such as The James Plays and Black Watch to large theatres.

According to the NTS, the financial costs of rural tours can be identical to, or greater than, those for main or medium-scale tours, with much reduced capacity to earn income.

At £82.23, the cost-per-audience-member of 2015’s Whisky Galore, touring to the Highlands and Islands, was five times greater than that for the current tour of The James Plays (£15.16).

The report says: “With diminishing grant funding, however, tough decisions are having to be considered going forward.”

It claims that a Scottish Government small-scale touring fund could go some way to “mitigating the complex tensions in the economics of small-scale touring and participation work”.

Part of the scope of the NTS’ without walls strategy involves what it calls a “welcome collaboration and partnership with venues, companies and theatremakers all over Scotland”. This means that any negative impact on Scotland’s theatre landscape is a negative impact on the NTS.

As a consequence, it says, the “Scottish Government grant reductions to Creative Scotland, as well as to the National Theatre of Scotland, are therefore a double whammy since, without a fertile theatrical scene, the national theatre cannot but suffer”.

The report also points out that the loss of what it calls “national vehicles for reaching audiences”, such as national print newspapers, “has had a deleterious effect on national cultural organisations”.

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