Theatres and producers are preparing for venues to remain closed until 2021, warning that they will suffer huge financial losses if government support does not remain in place until they are allowed to reopen.
Theatres including the National Theatre, Curve in Leicester and the Birmingham Hippodrome have shared their plans for different scenarios relating to when theatres are allowed to reopen, having closed their doors on March 16.
All have warned that under the worst-case scenario they could be forced to remain closed until next year, with Birmingham Hippodrome even planning for the possibility of not reopening until late spring 2021.
National Theatre director Rufus Norris said last week that he had “flexible” plans for any time between July and January, but warned there was a chance “it could be worse than that”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said the theatre was “haemorrhaging money” while it forced to remain closed but stressed the importance of being realistic about reopening.
“We can’t deny the fact that getting 1,000 people in a room together for three hours inside isn’t what people are thinking about doing at the moment. So it would be completely irresponsible if we didn’t put on a black hat and go: ‘What could be the worst-case scenario?’, because there’s no point not looking this thing in the eye,” he said.
The NT director and joint chief executive described the government’s job-retention scheme as “very, very helpful” but said: “We desperately hope it continues for as long as we can’t open.”
Birmingham Hippodrome artistic director Fiona Allan said she was planning four scenarios, with the best seeing the venue reopen late September or beginning of October. The worst would be late spring next year.
“The Hippodrome has been here 120 years, and my job is to protect our charity so that the curtain can rise again. It means planning through scenarios that would have been unthinkable even a couple of months ago,” she told The Stage.
Allan said the venue had no income coming in, and no Arts Council or local authority funding to fall back on.
“So we are spending straight from our hard-earned reserves. The job-retention scheme has been a lifeline, and one of the greatest risks is that it will not be extended through to the period when we are able to bring audiences back in, which would inevitably mean that jobs simply can’t be retained,” she said.
Allan added that all scenarios she was planning for were modelling an audience drop of between 20-30%, depending on the production, at least until the end of the 2021/22 financial year.
“There is no available science to model this, other than our instinct that some people may be less inclined to congregate, some social-distancing restrictions may still be in place for some segments of the population, and that it will take time to rebuild after a closure,” she said.
Allan also said the theatre would “need to have a much more commercial programme over the first couple of years, with much diminished artistic investment”.
Curve chief executive Chris Stafford said he was also looking at a number of scenarios, ranging from a summer opening through to shows not opening until 2021.
“We very much hope we will be back in business this autumn at the latest - the scenario of losing Christmas trading is incredibly bleak for an organisation like Curve,” he said, adding: “The challenge, of course, is no one knows when we will be back in business and what restrictions might need to be put in place for audiences to feel safe and secure in coming back to the theatre.”
He said Curve was spending thousands every month on its building and added: “The job-retention scheme has been a lifeline, but if it ceases to exist beyond June there is only so long our reserves can keep us going while we are closed.”
Their comments come after producer Jamie Wilson announced that the London run of musical Sister Act, originally planned for this year, was now postponed until the summer of 2021.
Wilson told The Stage that theatre producers had to consider the safety of the public and urged others not to “rush people back into theatres if it’s not safe”.
“That could cause a lasting damage to theatre in the long run. With Sister Act we have moved it simply to keep everyone safe, and we wanted audiences from around the world not to have to worry about rebooking seats. That is what we have been trying to concentrate on,” he said.