Creative industries have struggled to survive this past year, with little help from the government. Yet, nearly £1.28bn worth of ticket revenue contributed to the UK's economy in 2018: £503 million from musicals, £167 million brought in through plays and almost £100 million welcomed into the government’s open arms from opera houses and dance shows across the country. 2018 was a phenomenal year for the performing arts. Yet, theatres have been largely been ignored during the pandemic. Designers, technicians, writers, all the wonderful people who devote their lives for a few hours of our pure enjoyment have been forgotten in the wings.
Theatre is education. It humbles people who truly believe they know everything about the world. When you leave the auditorium, your mind has been stretched just a little bit further. There is always a perspective you will never have looked through had you not heard that monologue or a story that grows tired of the silence and finally decides to echo beyond the balcony.
Theatre is inspiration. It moves people and can start movements. It is upsetting to see those who have taught and inspired me left behind not supported in return. Freelance workers and small theatres have had to find other ways of coping, with no guidance or reassurance that their place of work will ever open up again. Theatres closing is not what I have an issue with (that’s a lie. I miss them as places). What really frustrates me, is when pubs and restaurants are encouraged to get back on its feet or ‘Eat out to Help out’ while box offices collect dust.
The government did grant (or respond conveniently only once it was brought to their attention) the arts industry with a £1.57 billion package. It’s something, but nowhere near enough.
Impresario of theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber has been working to raise awareness for the importance of funding for the arts, but Equity General Secretary Christian Payne fears "we risk the diversity and success of the wider creative industries – worth £112bn to the economy".
"These workers have campaigned for this deal; they can’t be left behind". What about the local theatres or small dance companies who have had no choice but to shut down? Time is running out and the future is unstable and uncertain. Those who are desperate for the return of their work are the ones who are fighting for the government’s support.
I spoke to Abbi Greenland, who co-runs RashDash theatre company, to understand the true impact of closures on community-driven organises. Prior to Covid-19, RashDash had been unsuccessful in receiving funding thrice, coping on their reserves and a generous donation of £25k from a supporter.
She says "there was nothing left for the pandemic, we were in a precarious position" describing the process as "stressful". I expected frustration from her, but Abbi seemed to take a positive approach.
She did, however, question the government priorities "how is there more urgency to protect statues than attacks on women", also commenting on access to theatre and the support so greatly missed: "they certainly could have done more".
Not if, but when we are allowed, book that local improv class you never made time for and donate whatever you can to the schemes, share people’s art on social media and when you hear the closing line, clap harder than you did for the NHS.