Nicholas Hytner has hailed the government’s £1.57 billion investment package in culture as "a much better plan than anyone expected", as the sector continues to welcome the news.
Hytner had previously warned that the performing arts in the UK stood "on the brink of ruin" as a result of being left without support during Covid-19 pandemic but praised the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s "big achievement" in securing the package.
The former National Theatre director, who is now co-director of London Theatre Company, said: "Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done and questions to be asked about how quickly these funds can be distributed, how they reach the artists who need support, and how soon we can connect with the audiences we’re so desperate to serve. But I warmly welcome the way Rishi Sunak and Oliver Dowden have responded to the tenacious and detailed lobbying of the entire arts sector.”
Equity’s general secretary Christine Payne also welcomed the announcement, but she too asked for more clarity about how the money will reach theatre workers impacted by the crisis.
She said: "How will the £880 million in grants for the sector support and maintain the freelance and self-employed creative workers our UK arts infrastructure depends on?
"If this investment does not reach creative workers – the actors, dancers, stage management, singers, variety artists, directors, designers, choreographers and many other highly skilled workers in our talent base – we risk the diversity and success of the wider creative industries, worth £112 billion to the economy."
Payne stressed that theatre’s workforce lobbied hard for the deal, and said they must not now be left behind.
"Our question to government is: how will this and future packages preserve the talent base of freelancers, self-employed creatives and staff employed in arts organisations?"
Producer and theatre owner Cameron Mackintosh welcomed the “very generous grant”, adding: “As well as finding out how commercial theatre venues, producers and our freelance artists and technicians can access this vital support it is now critical that we are given immediate guidance when social distancing will be phased out so we can make firm plans to reopen as soon as practical."
Mackintosh has already delayed the opening of his West End shows, including Hamilton and Les Misérables, until 2021, blaming the government for a lack of clarity to enable him to plan their return.
Among the theatre organisations responding to the announcement were Birmingham Hippodrome, one of the first major venues to announce it is being forced to begin redundancy consultations as a result of the extended closure.
Its artistic director chief executive Fiona Allan said: "This support will mean that more venues, jobs and companies can survive, and there will be an industry to return to when we can do safely. Theatres play an important civic role in our society, bringing communities together and helping regional economies thrive.
"We still have a lot of work to do, and while we wait for further details on how this may directly benefit Birmingham Hippodrome, we are now able to turn our focus to rebuilding what we have lost and planning for the future."
Others include the Donmar Warehouse, whose artistic director Michael Longhurst and executive director Henny Finch thanked the government and said they hoped it would support the UK theatre sector to survive until it is able to reopen.
"We look forward to understanding the details of the support package, and in particular how it can support the thousands of brilliant freelancers who make up the wider cultural workforce. We know how essential the arts will be in bringing people back together in theatres, music venues, museums, village halls, schools and community spaces after their period of isolation, and we can’t wait to start this crucial work again soon," they said.
Theatre Royal Stratford East’s leadership team, comprising artistic director Nadia Fall and executive director Eleanor Lang, said they had been through "much anticipation and anguish" in the wait for government support.
They also stressed the important of speed and fair distribution of the announced money, as well as highlighting the importance of supporting the theatre’s freelance collaborators.
Sheffield Theatres’ Robert Hastie and Dan Bates added: "We’re grateful to DCMS, the treasury and the prime minister for hearing us and offering this unprecedented investment which will support our theatres and freelancers to survive and thrive. We’d also like to thank everyone across the industry who has campaigned and helped to achieve this outcome. We know there is more detail to understand and we must wait for further guidelines. In the meantime, we look forward to learning more about the government’s funding package and how this can support us to look to the future and return to creating bold and brilliant work for our stages when it is safe to do so."
Caroline Norbury, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England, described the announcement as a "seismic step forward", with the potential to be "the game-changer we need".
However, she warned that despite the large financial sum, "there won’t necessarily be an easy return to normal".
She said: "There will be so much more to do to ensure that our world-beating creative sector can thrive once more and as we move forwards through the challenging days and months ahead it will be crucial that the creative industries work together to reimagine all of our futures."
Nickie Aiken, the MP for Westminster, said she was "delighted that Oliver Dowden and his team have listened and acted urgently" and said the money would help keep the industry going while work is ongoing around how theatres and institutions can reopen safely.
Government has not yet given any indication as to when theatres will be able to reopen and begin performances, however guidance is understood to be being finalised.
Elsewhere, the Theatres Trust’s director Jon Morgan said the announcement recognises the importance of the arts to the UK’s economy and national life.
He raised the issue of where money will be spent across the country, and also whether it will be able to support organisations in continuing to furlough staff while theatres remain closed.
"We are pleased to see investment in capital projects included in this announcement. Our research has shown that there are more than 100 theatre capital projects worth almost £800 million that have been stalled by the pandemic by anywhere between three and 18 months at a cost of upwards of £66 million,” Morgan added.