The executive directors of the UK’s two biggest theatre companies have added their voices to a campaign for urgent government support, warning that without it the entire sector is at risk.
National Theatre executive director Lisa Burger and Royal Shakespeare Company executive director Catherine Mallyon are the latest industry voices to call on the government to intervene, with Burger warning that the NT will have used all of its reserves by the end of the financial year.
She said the NT, which earlier this week revealed it was having to begin redundancies across the company, was facing “massive cuts” to production budgets and other areas of the organisation.
Both Burger and Mallyon said the government needed to extend the job retention scheme until theatres can reopen, and should be looking at grants and loans to help the industry survive the period until they can operate fully.
Burger told The Stage the industry-wide campaigning was “utterly crucial”.
“Without support, without an extension to the job retention scheme and additional grant support or loan support, we are in deep, deep trouble,” she told The Stage.
She said the NT was looking at the prospect of having to make cuts to production budgets and warned social distancing was not viable in theatres.
“What we do is bring people together in closed dark spaces and clearly it’s not safe to do that at the moment, not for audiences, performers or theatre workers, so while medical advice says we have to have it in place we can’t operate. It’s not economically possible for us to even operate,” she said.
Burger said the theatre was losing £5 million a month in net income and would have used all its reserves by the end of the financial year in March 2021.
“We have worked really hard to come up with a business model over years now that really takes advantage of [our] different commercial forms of income and that is why we have been financially successful for a number of years. But the impact of Covid-19 is that we have been using all our reserves and all of our reserves will be gone by March 31,” she said.
She told The Stage her biggest concern for the sector was the loss “all the people who make the work in the very widest sense”, and what it will do to the pipeline of talent.
“It’s taken years to get to this place of where we are - of Britain being the world leader in theatre. It seems, at a stroke, because people won’t have the opportunity to work, that is all going to be lost. The cost and difficulty of rehiring and reopening all those buildings is going to be immense but somehow we have to find a way of getting through this,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mallyon told The Stage 90% of RSC staff had been furloughed.
"We’re lucky that we have Arts Council income, ongoing philanthropy and the job retention scheme, so we can hold this position for as long as that job retention scheme continues in the way that it is, but we’re also really conscious that so many of our freelance artists and self-employed colleagues have a terrible lack of clarity about [their futures] and the future of our organisation depends on that as well,” she said, adding that if the government furlough scheme is not extended for the sector, the entire theatre industry will be "very much at threat", and describing the situation as "really, really grave".
She said the industry needed emergency investment and rebuilding funds “in order to be able to open ahead of the box office advances” and said the sector would need “some way of catalysing a commercial reopening with some sort of investment”.
Mallyon also called for clearer government guidance around mass gatherings and how theatres can reopen in the future.
She added: "The completely urgent task is to get money into the system to protect people and to protect the arts, but also it’s about the confidence of people coming back and the risk if that doesn’t happen. All the great work around diversity we do as an industry and the importance of arts education hangs on the success of our sector."