Letter to Oliver Dowden 2 July 2020
02 July 2020
Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
100 Parliament Street
Dear Oliver Dowden
We write to you today with urgency as the theatre and performing arts industry faces a critical moment. All around us is the news of our regional theatres and performance venues announcing closures or devastating staff redundancies. The UK arts sector is on the brink of disintegration, and immediate and bold action is imperative.
We have been making work for the stage for more than 20 years. We are aware of the symbiotic relationship between our work and the venues we work in and collaborate with. Theatre needs artists. It needs freelance makers – directors, writers, designers, technicians, performers, makers of all kinds. But today we are writing to you about theatres; specifically about regional theatres, which are a crucial part of the broader eco-system, at the heart of an industry we consistently hear described as ‘world class’.
The value of regional theatres and producing companies lies not only in the intrinsic value of the making and presenting, but also in its engagement with young people, in its outreach with older people, or extending the quality of life, benefitting the mental health of the area, making places attractive for people to live, work or study. Often unseen, largely uncelebrated, the unglamorous graft is in the additional space, support and engagement opportunities it provides for its communities.
Regional theatres are at the heart of their communities. The local cafes and restaurants, bars, hotels, taxi companies – they all know their economic value, how they generate a vibrant night-time economy, not to mention that they are significant employers, with an extensive supply chain which spans the country. Theatres already play a central role in the life of their communities – economically and socially – and have a central role to play in the recovery of our cities and towns, post Covid-19.
Theatre venues earn a major part of their overall income through ticket sales and other subsidiary sales – far more so than their European counterparts where public subsidy makes up a much higher proportion of overall income. The UK model, where theatres have increasingly become self-sufficient, getting better at selling tickets and running their bars and catering operations, means that, reliant as they are on earned income, our venues are feeling the effects of the current closedown. The less reliant they are on subsidy, the harder they are hit when their doors are closed. They have ongoing overheads and the end of the job retention scheme simply means, for most theatres, that people cannot be retained. We have already seen some regional theatres go into administration, and without a rapid and effective government intervention, it’s hard to imagine how very many will avoid following suit.
Once we allow our theatre infrastructure to collapse, and we slowly but surely lose our skilled workforce to other industries, it is almost impossible to see how it can ever return to a sustainable national model. The survival of producing companies, like ours and theatre venues is inextricably linked, and once venues start to close down, the whole ecology is in danger of ruin.
Until venues can operate in a financially sustainable way, we must see a very rapid and sizeable government intervention. This should include the positioning of theatre and other performance venues, and the wider arts sector, prominently in the coronavirus recovery roadmap, and must protect the country’s theatre infrastructure with a financial package of support. Immediate nationwide financial injection is necessary to save our theatres. And this needs to be followed by a structured package which extends financial investment into the sector to save venues and safeguard jobs, supports production companies and freelance theatre workers to continue working and earning, and puts in place wider reaching long-term measures to enable us to rebuild and play our role in the nation’s recovery.
David Martin (Chair, imitating the dog board)
Andrew Quick (Co-Artistic Director, imitating the dog)
Simon Wainwright (Co-Artistic Director, imitating the dog)
Pete Brooks (Co-Artistic Director, imitating the dog)
Julie Brown (Executive Director, imitating the dog)