Research published last week, commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation, predicts that job losses in theatre across permanent and freelance roles are likely to number 200,000.
It’s terrifying. And the government still drags its feet. But how might theatre help itself not just in terms of lobbying government but also by proving its usefulness?
The government too often sees theatre simply as an industry that entertains the nation. Indeed, the nation would have been starring at blank TV and computer screens during lockdown if it was not for theatre artists.
But, of course, theatre does so much more, which it has demonstrated during the shutdown, whether that’s delivering food parcels or making personal protective equipment.
But are there other ways that theatre might share its buildings and creativity as precious resources? By aiding the post-pandemic recovery, can it become more deeply entwined in the community and essential to it?
Director Kate Golledge and producer Sharon Kanolik think so. With JoinedUp, they are exploring how theatre can play a crucial role in helping teachers and schools reopen fully to all pupils by using the untapped creative skills of the theatre workforce and arts buildings as a different kind of classroom.
It’s already happening in Denmark, where museums are being used not just as overspill classrooms but to deliver a different kind of education with creativity at its heart. Artist Bob and Roberta Smith’s Constitution for the Arts says: “All schools should be art schools.” Perhaps all theatres should be creative learning theatres.
After local consultation, Golledge and Kanolik are hoping to run a pilot scheme on the south coast to explore the idea’s practicalities. With many schools cutting the numbers of children they have on the premises, a potential army of artists, helping to take the strain in cultural buildings or indeed village halls, libraries and sports centres, could be one solution.
Rolling out on a national scale would require funding from government, local authorities and maybe the National Lottery. But if the government could be persuaded to start seeing the potential of theatre buildings as extending beyond entertainment, it might help theatres get their buildings open quicker.
Bigger buildings are likely to have available daytime space even once they have opened up for shows. Artists would have employment. Apparently, the government is planning to hire teams of private tutors to get children up to speed, but an army of artists could not just deliver the arts but work across the curriculum while delivering happiness and well-being.
For many kids, discovering their creativity makes them grow in confidence
Golledge says the idea is not a quick fix but part of a long-term strategy of creative exchange between communities and the arts sector. For schools, the arts offer a different way of learning. As Einstein might or might not have said: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” For many kids, discovering their creativity makes them grow in confidence and not feel stupid.
I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s conference, Towards a Creative Curriculum, at the Barbican earlier this year, an inspiring day that reminded me there are many teachers in state schools who are fighting against the tide to ensure their pupils have access to the arts.
But there were also warning signs before Covid-19 struck. We may assume the lack of arts provision in school is more serious in secondary schools and that primary schools are still hives of creativity. But the education journalist Laura McInerney, who co-founded the app Teacher Tapp, suggested otherwise.
When primary school teachers were asked by Teacher Tapp what subjects they would most like to pass on to someone else, the results were surprising for those of us who assumed teachers must enjoy doing art and drama. But no, 64% said they would give up teaching the arts if they could. The younger they were, the more they loved teaching English and maths and the less comfortable they were teaching arts. Only in older teachers was that finding reversed.
Many younger teachers were themselves raised in a strong testing culture, and their training has geared them to teaching with an emphasis on maths, English and science.
The big question is how arts institutions might work on a daily basis with teachers so the arts infiltrate every part of the curriculum, including maths and science. That would sidestep the argument that there is no space for them in the timetable.
Ironically the pandemic could offer just the opportunity. With JoinedUp, Golledge and Kanolik are working to ensure that every child in the country has the arts education that is their right, contributing to the health and well-being of the young and supporting teachers across the curriculum. With theatres from the Bush to Farnham Maltings and the Unity in Liverpool already on board this is an idea that could grow and grow.