Theatre leaders including Sonia Friedman, Vicky Featherstone and Julian Bird are leading a co-ordinated effort to pressure the government for immediate support to prevent the industry from imminent collapse.
Arts leaders have taken to newspapers, radio programmes and television shows to ensure the severity of the situation facing theatre is understood, with the government under increased and intense pressure to step in now to save it from “complete obliteration”.
Friedman wrote an opinion piece for the Telegraph, with Featherstone joining Sheffield Theatres’ Robert Hastie on Radio 4, and Society of London Theatre chief executive calling for government support on Radio 4’s Front Row. Meanwhile, writer James Graham is set to appear on the BBC programme Question Time today (May 21, 2020).
Friedman, writing in The Telegraph, has warned that British theatre is on the brink of “total collapse”, claiming 70% of performing arts companies will be out of business by the end of the year and more than 1,000 theatres are at risk of closing for good.
The producer makes the warning in an opinion piece written for the Telegraph, in which she warns that government intervention is needed now to save the sector.
“All the performing arts – theatre, dance, opera, comedy, theatre in education, Christmas pantomime, community shows – are facing the real possibility of complete obliteration. I know it sounds melodramatic. It beggars belief – but it is a statement of fact,” she writes.
“Without an urgent government rescue package, 70% of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year. More than 1,000 theatres around the country will be insolvent and might shut down for good. The loss is inconceivable. What we take for granted has taken generations to create. It would be irrecoverable. We need our government to step up and step in – sharpish. There is no time to waste,” she states.
Friedman goes on to highlight the precarious situations faced by the likes of Shakespeare’s Globe, the Old Vic and the National Theatre.
“Unless there is intervention, we’ll watch the Royal Shakespeare Company close down, the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells, even the National Theatre itself: all will be gone by December. All West End theatres will be mothballed. Dark. We cannot let this happen,” she argues.
Friedman states theatres have lost all their income, and highlights the cost to keep theatres closed each week they are dark, putting it at £30,000 a week for a playhouse. She claims the National is losing “millions every month”.
Royal Court artistic director Featherstone and Sheffield Theatres artistic director Hastie spoke to Radio 4’s Today programme about the situation facing British theatre.
Featherstone said: “Without income we are absolutely nothing. By Christmas 70 years of investment from successive governments will be completely wiped down the pan unless we find some way to get some extra support.”
While acknowledging that other industries are in danger, she said theatre was “disproportionately affected because we can’t resume the business”.
She added: “If we can get support to cover this bridge we can come back absolutely flying. What we are asking for is a drop in the ocean for us to be able to be part of the recovery of the nation,” highlighting a package of measures - including extending the furloughing scheme - to survive.
Hastie said he was exploring other ways to present theatre, such as outdoor productions, but warned: “These won’t generate the kinds of income from saving us from dismantling this industry. We need that help to get over this moment so we can come back flying.”
Society of London Theatre chief executive Julian Bird appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row to impress on the government how much support is needed, as venues have “zero income”.
“We are at the vanguard of the troubles,” he warned, pointing to the £330 million losses that have already been incurred since theatres shut.
“It’s a genuine crisis for our sector and we have seen organisations go to the wall,” he said.
He said social distancing for most theatres would not be an option, adding that most need to run at a capacity of “well north of 65%” to survive".
Commenting on the situation faced by theatres up and down the country, he said: “They all operate on tight margins with very low levels of reserves. We call on the government as an industry to continue to work with us to put money into this world leading industry that is at risk of failing - and failing not through anyone’s fault but through this external event that has happened.”
Royal and Derngate artistic director Dacre wrote a piece in the Times claiming his venue is in “financial intensive care”.
“Like most regional theatres, Royal and Derngate in Northampton, where I am the artistic director, is in financial intensive care. The maths is brutal: nearly 90% of our income is earned through ticket sales and bar revenue. All of this was wiped out overnight with the enforced closure on March 18,” he wrote.
He also urged the government for support, writing: “What is needed is an immediate cash injection to help us to survive lockdown, and strategic mid-term support as the industry works out new business models. This could include a student loan-style payback scheme, increases to theatre tax relief, or VAT exemption for ticket revenue.
“Without such a package, irreparable damage could be inflicted on Britain’s theatrical infrastructure, which has developed generations of talent for commercial theatre, television, film and gaming — collectively a huge UK industry providing significant revenues to the Treasury.”