Well, here we all are at an anniversary we never thought we’d see. One year ago today, the bustling West End, together with most theatres across the UK, still shell-shocked from the advice given by authorities, and with no firm government instruction, found themselves reluctantly turning customers away and closing their doors, with no return in sight.
With everyone wanting to get their tuppence worth in on this topic, I thought I’d spare you my ruminations which in essence won’t be that dissimilar to other, more informed sources, and instead give my space over to SOLT/UK Theatre, who have done far more than most to keep theatre alive.
“A year ago, on 16 March 2020, theatres across the country closed their doors due to the pandemic.
Today, survey results collected by Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre from across the theatre sector paint a picture of an industry that has struggled to survive the past 12 months and faced huge financial strain – but remains resilient and adaptable.
The survey was completed by 944 theatre venues, venue groups, non-venue theatre businesses and individual theatre freelancers.
Over 95% of surveyed theatre organisations around the UK reported being worse off because of Covid. 53 of the 186 theatre organisations answering a question about financial loss due to Covid reported a loss of over £1m each – this includes 16 organisations who have lost over £5m each. The total loss of those 165 organisations able to provide figures is estimated at nearly £200m so far.
The survey also reveals that many of the highly skilled freelance theatre workforce have been forced to take alternative jobs during the pandemic, or even leave the sector altogether. One in four of the freelancers surveyed said they had gone out of business or ceased trading due to Covid. 270 alternative roles were sought within performing arts, and 456 outside the industry.
Almost a third of theatre venue respondents said they have had plans to create an outdoor performance space due to Covid – despite the fact that the majority (61%) will operate at a loss. Almost half are developing a revenue-generating digital space or product.
For England-based theatre organisations, 60% are planning to restart trading from 17 May (Step 3 of the Government Roadmap), and 83% said they would resume from 21 June (Roadmap Step 4).
Julian Bird, Chief Executive of SOLT and UK Theatre, said:
‘At that fateful moment a year ago when we were forced to close theatres, we could never have imagined that venues would remain closed today. It has been a year of incredible challenges, and would have been even bleaker were it not for Government support schemes including the Cultural Recovery Fund, furlough and SEISS.
‘It has also been a year in which we have truly witnessed the resilience, creativity and community-mindedness of theatre, from digital innovations allowing streamed productions to reach a global audience, to theatres creating educational and wellbeing resources, and venues offering themselves as vaccine centres or hosting pioneering scientific research on measures to prevent Covid spread.
‘We look forward to continuing to work closely with Government and industry partners, welcoming audiences safely back into theatres and playing a part in the national economic and social recovery.’
Despite the recent Government roadmap and Budget announcements, thousands of freelancers in the theatre industry are in crisis right now, and face weeks and months of uncertainty before theatres can fully reopen.
To mark 16 March, a host of famous faces are joining colleagues from across the theatre industry today in highlighting the plight of freelancers and raising awareness for the Theatre Artists Fund, using the social media hashtags #16March, #TheatreArtistsFund and #FirstInLastOut – referencing the fact that theatre workers were first into lockdown and will be among the last to return to work.
Created last July by director Sam Mendes, SOLT and UK Theatre, the Theatre Artists Fund provides emergency financial aid to the freelancers who make up an estimated 70% of the theatre sector. Eligible freelancers in need can apply for an individual grant of £1000 to help pay bills and put food on the table. The latest round of grant applications has opened today (16 March) and will close on 30 March. Full details of eligibility and how to apply are available on the Theatre Artists Fund website.
Sam Mendes, director and co-founder of the Theatre Artists Fund, said:
‘The immense level of support for the #16March Theatre Artists Fund campaign illustrates that while theatres may be closed, the spirit of the theatre community is well and truly alive. I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the campaign, and all those who have shown their fantastic support for the Fund. It has helped enable fellow members of our community stay afloat during these extremely difficult times.’
Those who have lent their support to the #16March campaign include Joe Alwyn, Ellie Bamber, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Michaela Coel, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anne-Marie Duff, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfie Enoch, Michael Fassbender, Claire Foy, Hugh Jackman, Ruth Madeley, Ian McKellen, Liam Neeson, James Norton, Sophie Okonedo, Weruche Opia, Andi Osho, Elaine Paige, Maxine Peake, Simon Pegg, Eddie Redmayne, Imelda Staunton, Juliet Stevenson, Mark Strong, David Walliams, Harriet Walter, Zoë Wanamaker, Emily Watson, Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson and Kate Winslet.”
To donate £5, £10 or £20 to the Theatre Artists Fund, text THEATREFUND followed by the amount you wish to help with. You can also donate at www.theatreartists.fund. This is also where artists themselves can apply for support from the fund, which has reopened today. (Texts cost one standard message cost plus the amount you have chosen to donate)/