Are Britain’s Theatres Facing the Final Curtain?

Are Britain’s Theatres Facing the Final Curtain?

The arts are a proven way of supporting the economy; a rich cultural heritage sparks an interest in tourism. But as well as being a ray of hope in a country fast approaching a post-Brexit world, the arts are also a significant factor in binding communities together and promoting the imagination, aspiration and mental wellbeing of our children.

Unfortunately, creative industries are being made to suffer by the government; regional theatres aren’t receiving the financial support that they are in desperate need of, aspiring playwrights aren’t allowed the same break through opportunities, and our nation’s cultural infrastructure is being systematically dismantled.

Calls for the government to provide adequate funding have been made by the former head of the National Theatre, Sir Richard Eyre.  The renowned director commented on how regional theatres are “having a hard time with cuts from the local authorities, cuts from the Arts Council, and then rising prices. There’s a sort of dilatory attitude to public support of culture in this country. I think that government and education must and should pay a part in it.”

He goes on to say: “You can say, ‘well, let it all die’…I think that would be a terrible tragedy, particularly in this country, where there’s such a rich cultural heritage.”

With a tighter budget, and therefore less room for experimentation; opportunities for emerging playwrights are at risk of becoming non-existent.

It certainly would be a travesty to simply ‘let it all die’. But currently that is the destination which regional theatres are headed. The Arts Council budget is set to face cuts of 8%. This is approximately £700,000 less than the current expenditure of £8,369,796. Undoubtedly this will cause a great deal of damage to an already struggling creative sector. As the funding provided to the Arts Council is already such a small percentage of government expenditure, the smallest of cuts has the potential to be disastrous. Cracks in the infrastructure of our culture are already beginning to show; regular funding has recently been cut altogether from organisations such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

But it isn’t just institutions that will suffer from these cuts. With a tighter budget, and therefore less room for experimentation; opportunities for emerging playwrights are at risk of becoming non-existent. With more venues becoming independently funded, artistic directors are more reluctant to take risks on emerging talent.

Tom Stickland, a Theatres Trust adviser, stated: “Revenue subsidies are being cut as public-sector budgets come under increasing pressure. This is worsened by the urgent need for many theatres to undergo building repairs and improvements […] The sustainability of riskier artistic projects and impactful community work could be threatened if cuts continue on this scale.”

Our theatres are in crisis, potential talent is suffering from lack of investment, and our rich cultural heritage is at risk of being slowly demolished.

This was certainly the case for Adura Onashile, Channel 4’s Playwright Scheme’s 2017 bursary winner. The 41-year old revealed her financial struggle whilst writing the play Expensive S**t, and her reliance on her partner for support: “If I was single, I probably wouldn’t be a playwright.’ She continued: ‘A lot of playwrights drop out for that reason.”

But it isn’t just finance that is discouraging future talent from working within the theatre. In Education, expenditure has already started to prioritise ‘academic’ subjects over music, art, and drama. Research shows that these creative subjects have all suffered cutbacks. In fact, 100,000 children are set to lose out on an arts education due to the focus on English Baccalaureate subjects such as history, geography and modern foreign languages. It is clear that the arts are being eliminated from children’s education, which will no doubt diminish the number of young creatives with the potential to steer our theatres, and those who are prepared to defend them.

Our theatres are in crisis, potential talent is suffering from lack of investment, and our rich cultural heritage is at risk of being slowly demolished. There is no doubt that other areas of government expenditure, such as the public sector, are vital for our population to live well. But culture is what we live for. If you truly care about the arts, it is time to stand up and support Britain’s creative sector.

Eva Curless

(Image courtesy of York Theatre Royal)