It’s not been an optomistic few days in theatre land.
In close succession we`ve seen the closure of three venues. The brye theatre in St Andrews and Spa Theatre Felixstowe had already closed their doors when – after a brave battle – the Brewhouse Taunton went into administration.
The now unemployed director of the Brewhouse Robert Miles final blog post (now removed) was dignified but clear. Clear about the economic and social impact of the theatre on the town. Clear too how they’d been left high and dry by their stakeholders. Feelings echoed by former director Colin Blumenau on his blog (But, God damn it, how can a society that prides itself on its culture and its heritage allow it to happen?) whilst one of the brewhouse creditors Pilot Theatre’s Marcus Romer posted his view here.’What happened at the Brewhouse was clearly a terrible blow for the town, the staff and their audiences….But also for the whole wider arts ecology and infrastructure’
The commedian Robin Ince was quick to point out ‘the demise of Taunton’s brew house is a worrying potent. Make the most of your art centres while you can. Make them vital.‘ But as Lyn Gardner pointed out ‘its not as if the brew house was not supported by local people. Hull Trucks Jane Eyre sold out tonight….But can’t survive without Somerset CC support’.
A sign of times to come? If this story (are nine out of ten government cuts still to come?) is accurate then the future does not look good. Unconfirmed rumours already suggest that the DCMS have asked the arts council to scenario plan for a new order which would see the number of regularly funded clients (NPOs) slashed
All this is a far cry from SOLTS announcement at the end of January that the West End was thriving delivering box office of over £500m, high quality product and bucket loads of cash into the VAT mans coffers (£88,062,646 to be exact). A considerable amount of that success coming directly from subsidised houses transferring work into the West End. (BBC coverage of the story is here)
At the ITC AGM on Friday playwright Fin Kennedy and Helen Campbell Pickford released In Battalions. The report- as Lyn Gardner points out in her summary ‘shows a catalogue of loss‘and finds the English theatre scene is “shrivelling”. Two-thirds of venues are cancelling productions, 50% are producing fewer new plays, commissioning fewer writers, and where they do or can insist playwrights focus on smaller cast sizes.
‘Arts and Culture are being attacked from all sides‘ said the Lost Arts group ‘caught in a perfect storm of Government cuts,local authority cuts, audiences with less money to spend and increasing competition for what philanthropy there is‘
But does this matter if the West End thrives now? Culture Minister Ed Vaizey still believes so “Theatre remains extremely well-funded in England. I am confident new writing of high quality will always have a chance to be both commissioned and performed”
Not a view shared (and quoted in In Battalions) by commercial producer Maria Friedman:-
‘I don’t get subsidy‘ she said ‘But I do need the subsidised sector . That is where the talent finds its training. Writers, actor, designers and directors all cut their teeth in that environment. You have to talk about the whole ecology, the relationship between grassroots, the subsidised sector, national companies, tv, film and radio. We need to take an overview of the cultural body politic and how it is damaged by a short termism that will damage a multi billion industry over a generation‘
Here actor Sam West puts the arguement another way:-
It’s left to Maria’s colleague – and former National Theatre Literature Manager -Jack Bradley to envisage the future. The future he sees as a black TV screen. ‘For a moment you assume a fault in reception, then a message appears ‘this is what happens when you cut the arts’ For TV, radio and film do not actually come out of the ether…it is a long slow apprenticeship, a craft honed by dedicated writers, directors and other passionate creatives. We do not arrive fully formed, conjured by magic’
During Thursday’s BBC Question Time Lizzie Crump’s question about what the government was doing to help grow one of the UK’s most successful businesses – the creative industries was neatly side stepped by David Dimbleby. But the theatre closed signs outside buildings in Felixstowe, in St Andrews and in Taunton and Kennedy/Pickford’s report paint a picture of the future which is chilling.