English National Opera will have used up all its reserves by October and will be forced to consider redundancies if support is not offered, its chief executive has said.
Stuart Murphy warned that the performing arts would “transform beyond recognition” if the furlough scheme was withdrawn before venues could reopen, with ENO months away from having spent all its reserves on maintaining the organisation during the lockdown.
He told The Stage: “Our situation is that we’ve used up our main reserves of several million pounds, but then we’ve started to eat into our secondary reserve, which is the reserve that looks after the building, so it’s the reserve you don’t want to use. That runs out in mid-October.”
The Society of London Theatre has warned that 70% of theatres in the UK will have run out of money by Christmas.
He said the opera company would “definitely have to look at changing our staff numbers” without additional financial help from the government, and that he believed the “pinch point” for many organisations would come at the start of October, as the furloughing scheme winds down.
Murphy said: “The government has been great with furloughing, but actually as furloughing tapers off, you’ll see the theatre industry transform beyond recognition. It will be transformative and also irreversible.”
“Once one goes under, the domino effect is massive,” he added, arguing that the fortunes of one arts organisation will have knock-on effects for others in terms of access to staff, talent and venues.
Despite this, Murphy said he was committed to keeping audiences “buoyant and motivated” while its doors remain closed, with plans to continue diversifying the people who engage with its work.
Among the measures already announced is a drive-in opera season, which will take place at Alexandra Palace in September, alongside further plans for live performance and creating work for digital audiences during the lockdown.
Murphy said the government should recognise the work arts companies and freelance creatives have been doing during the pandemic.
“What we’ve tried to say to government is: we’re attempting stuff. It won’t be what we normally do, but we’re definitely attempting stuff with Drive and Live and loads of social media. The quid pro quo, the social contract, is you [government] really need to support us and help the self-employed, and help with the cultural investment participation scheme,” he said.
The cultural investment participation scheme proposes that government gives money to theatres and other arts organisations to enable them to create work, with government acting as an investor and earning back the money it puts in.