The Society Of London Theatre and UK Theatre submitted a paper to The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on the importance of theatre to our country; what we will lose if the theatre industry collapses and what we need to stop that from happening.
An ecosystem as intricate and evolved as the performing arts cannot be rebuilt from scratch. It is the product of decades of capital projects worth billions of pounds. Its buildings are unique and not easily repurposed. Its talent is truly specialist. The British performing arts and theatre sector is not merely treasured, but priceless.
On Sunday 5 July, the Government announced a rescue package of £1.57 billion to help the arts, culture and heritage industries survive the impact of Covid-19. This was hugely welcomed across the industry, read more here.
The first round of support was announced on 12 October, read more here.
Below is an overview of what our original paper outlined.
The world needs our theatres
British Theatre is one of our best exports around the globe. British theatrical productions fill venues from Broadway to Beijing, and are recognised around the world.
Theatre is also a huge driver of tourism – both nationally and internationally. More people see a theatre show every year than attend all League football matches in the whole of the UK and 10 million tourists visiting the UK each year engage with art and culture.
The economy needs our theatres
The importance of theatre and the performing arts go far beyond its cultural impact, it is a big contributor to our economy. The cultural sector contributed £32.3 billion to the UK economy in 2018.
The theatre industry has impacts far beyond the velvet seats. Theatre is vital to the success of the UK’s multibillion-pound film and TV industry by launching the career of internationally renowned actors, writers and producers like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ben Kingsley, Julie Walters, Cush Jumbo, Danny Boyle, Anne-Marie Duff, David Oyelowo and Sam Mendes.
From stage doors to costume departments, about 290,000 people work in the theatre industry. 70% of these jobs are currently at risk.
Theatre financially supports local communities too; for every £1 spent at the theatre, £3 is spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel in the local area. This figure is even higher in London’s West End, which draws 300,000 people a week alone.
Communities need our theatres
Theatre and the performing arts make a powerful contribution to our society and to our national identity – we have a rich history of theatre, from Shakespeare to Pantomime. Theatres make areas richer culturally and financially and are a big part of the fabric of local communities.
Local theatres are so much more than a performance space. They are community hubs, education centres and meeting places and many offer programmes that enrich the local area, often reaching out to old, young and disadvantaged parts of the community.
The support we need from government
For us to survive we need to continue to work with the government to ensure that the complex needs of the sector are understood and that we can work together on a solution that allows our theatres to open safely.
We simply cannot open whilst strict social distancing measures are in place as it is neither practical or economically viable for our theatres. We want to work with the government and Public Health England on a safety-first protocol and are keen to collaborate on a set of Keep Safe principles that would be adopted across the sector.
We welcome the establishment of the Entertainment & Events Working group to develop blueprints for how and when closed businesses and venues can reopen safely and are playing a very active role in that work.
On behalf of the sector, we have now submitted a clear request to the DCMS for support to enable our sector’s long-term future.
We need the UK Governments to:
Sustain our workforce
Since theatres closed in mid-March, they have been operating with zero income. We are asking the government to fully fund an extended Job Retention Scheme, and provide a new package to support the 70% of our workforce who are freelancers and self-employed artists.
Support theatre recovery
We need the government to incentivise investment in the theatre industry to help it survive and grow across the UK. Adapting the existing Theatre Tax Relief scheme and mitigating risk by underwriting production insurance will allow theatres and productions to reopen.
We’re also calling for support for the huge web of businesses that supply and rely on theatres, and support in creating Covid-19 secure venues for our audience, which will require investing in health and safety precautions like PPE, toilet facility changes and increased costs of working.
Safeguard the industry
Many organisations will struggle to survive, even with measures to support their workforce. Lots of theatre organisations are charities and trusts, with low reserves. We are asking the government to provide additional Emergency Relief Funding and the creation of a new Cultural Investment Participation Scheme to help organisations throughout the sector.