The Show Must Go On: Why Regional Theatre Will Ensure the Industry Survives
Sofia Giles reviews the importance of regional theatres and how they serve to protect the arts ecosystem
The Coronavirus pandemic has left the arts industry in a state of emergency. Though this unprecedented global health crisis has had devastating effects on industries far and wide, the arts industry, whose funds are significantly cut by the government year after year have been left with very little hope of recovery.
The majority of arts workers are freelance and self employed. This meant they were unable to seek support from the government’s furlough scheme. The devastating loss of income paired with the ongoing closure of theatres and music venues has meant that artists and venues struggled to survive. This isn’t the first challenge in a while that the industry has had to face.
Almost £400m has been stripped out of annual local authority spending on culture and the arts since 2010, according to research by the County Councils Network. This has caused the arts to become underfunded, expensive and difficult to access. With this, comes the inevitable closure of local theatres and performance venues who are just unable to survive.
Though London is a thriving global hub for theatre, it is dominated by funded corporations such as the Ambassadors Theatre Group and the Really Useful Group, who own large scale musicals such as Matilda and Phantom of the Opera. It’s unacceptable that these commercial theatre groups thrive at the expense of local theatres who are working with diverse artists, producing topical and important shows and are a part of the growth in British theatre.
They are a creative hub, an economic booster, an education provider and most importantly, a cultural treasure that we’re disregarding
Before leading theatre critic Michael Billington retired last year, he said that the greatest regret of his career was the loss of regional theatre companies. This leaves only the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon and Dundee Theatre as the only regional theatres for actors to gain access to that kind of training, and for local people to access professional theatre without travelling to London. As someone who has worked as an usher for the Royal Shakespeare Company since I was 15, I can say first hand how important local arts companies are. They are a creative hub, an economic booster, an education provider and most importantly, a cultural treasure that we’re disregarding.
The ironic thing is, it is these small local theatre and arts venues that will support and rebuild the rest of the arts ecosystem, including the large national theatre venues. Though in large venues, it requires approximately 90% of the seats to be filled in order to break even with production costs, smaller and regional theatres haven’t stopped working during the pandemic. They have found new ways of making work, putting on theatre and keeping their company a float.
Through seeing work put on by regional theatre companies you can support the people local to you. This translates into a wider network of support for up and coming local actors, stage managers, lighting designers, seamstresses and so on. Protecting the arts involves nurturing the whole ecosystem, from the regional theatres in Exeter to London Theatreland.
It is with the resurgence and support of these regional theatres that will keep the industry alive, afloat and stronger than ever.
Local theatres to Exeter: