Almost eight out of 10 receiving theatres across the UK will need further government support to survive if lockdown measures continue beyond May, according to a new survey.
Conducted by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, the survey lays bare the stark challenges venues and producers are facing as theatres continue to remain dark, having been closed on March 16, and raises serious concerns about the financial problems they are up against.
It reveals almost a quarter of producers and producing theatres are facing cashflow issues in April that are likely to cause operational difficulties as lockdown continues.
The survey, completed by more 164 theatres and producers nationwide, found that 77% of receiving houses, and 67% of producers/producing theatres, said they would need further financial support beyond what is already being offered if they are to continue operating as businesses.
In other findings from the survey:
More than a third of receiving houses said that they would be able to return to full programming within one to three months of the government lockdown being lifted. About two-thirds of producers/producing theatres said their first show would be ready within the same time frame.
Responding to the findings, Chris Stafford, chief executive of Leicester’s Curve, said the government’s job retention scheme had “been a lifeline for our industry” but that, once restrictions are lifted, it was “crucial government interventions like this continue until we are properly back in business”.
“It’s not a case of turning on the lights and continuing where we left off – it will take a few months before many theatres are able to present and stage shows once more, and a period without any support could be devastating for many organisations and producers across the country,” he said.
Curve had lost more than 80% of its income, he claimed, adding: “Loans are not the answer to this situation.”
“Arts Council England has done a terrific job in responding to this crisis with the resources it has, but further funds will be needed from the Treasury to support all areas of the sector – NPOS, non-NPOs, commercial and artists – for our industry to weather this colossal storm,” he added.
The findings come as Andrew Lloyd Webber last week warned that he anticipated theatres will remain closed until at least September.
He told New York publication Page Six that expectations venues will be open by June were “optimistic”.
“People won’t wish to crowd into small clustered seats again. But we must reopen. Some, with leftover money to spend, need the theatre,” he said.
His concerns about audiences returning to theatres echo those of industry leaders, including Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans, who last week warned that audiences may not want to return to sitting in close proximity to one another.
Last week, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced that its Swan Theatre will remain closed until the autumn due to the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis.
It comes as the Stratford-upon-Avon company admits it had to make “difficult decisions” to ensure its survival, including furloughing most of its staff.
While the Swan will not reopen until the latter part of this year, the company is hopeful that its main stage will be able to open earlier, but this will not be before June 30.
Meanwhile, a parliamentary inquiry has been launched into the impact of Covid-19 on the culture sector, with the industry being called upon to submit evidence.
The cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee will consider both the immediate and long-term effects of coronavirus on all sectors that fall under its remit.
It will also explore how the coronavirus-related social and financial measures are affecting these industries.
It is the second inquiry announced by the DCMS committee, following news of a similar investigation into the impact on charities.
The committee said it was seeking evidence from anyone with views to share on issues such as the range of impacts of Covid-19, how DCMS and arm’s-length bodies such as ACE have addressed the sector’s needs, and what other support is required.
It will also look at how the sector might evolve after the pandemic subsides and how DCMS can contribute to efforts to deal with future challenges.
Written evidence is requested by May 1.