Theatres have a “civic duty” to provide spaces and services for the public that are becoming less available in wider society, artistic directors Nadia Fall and Matt Fenton have argued.
These include areas where people are able to gather for free, as well as youth services addressing mental health, homelessness and unemployment.
Fall, artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, said: “The civic duty of the theatre is so important.
“Nowadays it isn’t the church. Where do people congregate? Where can people read a book or have a discussion and not have to pay for that?”
She was speaking alongside Fenton, artistic director and chief executive of Contact Theatre in Manchester, at the Theatres Trust Conference 2019, which took place at Battersea Arts Centre.
Fenton said that Contact, which is a youth-focused venue, “desperately needs to house some of the services that young people need but cannot get out of the wider community”.
He added: “One thing that we want in our team is a specialist in mental health to support young people.
“If we refer a young person from our young company or one of our programmes, we know we are referring them into a black hole and they are not going to get seen for months, so we actually we need in-house support services to deal with that terrible result, but also for young people facing challenges around unemployment and homelessness.”
Fenton also stressed the importance of having a foyer space that is open to all members of the local community regardless of whether they are paying customers at the theatre.
He added: “The foyer is populated all the time by multiple different communities, we have rap artists, people asleep on the sofas, people eating their own lunch, having their own meetings and Extinction Rebellion having their meetings there.”