LW Theatres, the Young Vic, and Selladoor Worldwide are among the latest theatre organisations to warn of the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry, detailing multimillion-pound losses and an increasingly urgent need for clarity from government.
A newly released set of submissions to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on the arts also include renewed pleas from the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre for a government support package, as they want that “clear decisions” must be taken “no later than early July if we are to prevent the terminal decline of this world-leading sector”.
The written evidence submissions stress both the long-term consequences of continued closure, while also exposing immediate threats to theatres’ survival.
The Young Vic has already used up more than half of its existing reserves in order to survive the closure, while Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LW Theatres said its losses are “increasing very rapidly as every day goes by”.
In addition to highlighting the “devastating” financial impact the pandemic is having on their futures, many organisations pointed to the damages wrought by a lack of clarity over timelines for reopening and the impossibility of social distancing.
In order for shows to reopen at the end of 2020, producers and venues need to start putting plans in place now, LW Theatres said, with the West End requiring no less than three months’ notice in order to be able to open.
Without a roadmap towards reopening and clarity about when social distancing will end “London’s West End does not return in its current form any time in the forecastable future”, it warned
“Ambiguous” government statements and no indication of how long social distancing will continue have “made it all but impossible for the sector to make any plans, even tentative, for its recovery”, LW said.
Selladoor admitted to “burning through reserves” to stay afloat, revealing that it has lost 97% of revenue across its productions in 2020, which it described as “nothing short of devastating”.
The producer and venue operator said it would need urgent and continued government support to survive the period, and estimated that it will end the financial year with a £2 million deficit.
Selladoor also highlighted the challenges around reopening, and said that even with a clear date set, it could take six to nine months before its buildings were fully prepared and audiences re-engage at pre-Covid levels.
Meanwhile, the Young Vic said the crisis had put its core mission “under threat” and warned about the long-term impacts of depleting its reserves.
“These reserves have allowed us to withstand the shock of the crisis. However, the protection they offer is the very core of what enables the theatre to support innovation, take creative and educational risks and ensure that ticket prices are kept low,” it said.
Research and development of new work will be delayed, and funded less generously as a result of the crisis, the theatre suggested, which could cause “a shortage of innovation on stage in the three to five-year time frame”.
The Young Vic also called for an extension of the furlough scheme for the full period while theatres remain closed, and said government must also look at its longer term funding of the arts, which it said “needs urgent redress”.
“For many years public institutions have been under pressure to diversify (or commercialise) income streams to bolster reducing subsidy levels. In the face of this pandemic, those who have most effectively diversified find themselves the most exposed,” it said.
Other submissions to the inquiry said:
Alexandra Palace said it would have been forced to make more than 150 redundancies without the furlough scheme, but warned that reopening may not be viable at all with social distancing in place.
The Mercury Theatre in Colchester will not be able to open until January 2021 at the earliest, and has already lost more than £1 million.
The League of Independent Producers, which represents more than 50 commercial producers, warned that “many shows may not resume without significant financial assistance”, and said raising funds to create new shows in London and across the UK would be “significantly more difficult” as a result of the risk felt by investors.
Manchester City Council said it anticipated “many organisations facing insolvency” as reserves go down, and that they would have to make redundancies if they are to avoid “operating in the red”. It said it was aware of one national portfolio organisation in the city that may need to cease trading in July and several more that could be insolvent by September.
Directors UK said the impact of lockdown on TV and film directors had been “immediate and acute” and called for the £50,000 cap on eligibility to the self-employed support scheme to be lifted.
The Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain said the circus sector would need “a huge injection of funds to survive” unless performances could start soon. However, it believes that circuses may be able to open earlier than other parts of the industry.