Actors and UK theatre leaders warn ‘ruin,’ urge government to intervene

Actors and UK theatre leaders warn ‘ruin,’ urge government to intervene

Citing recent data that shows 70% of theaters in the United Kingdom will run out of money by the end of the year, 97 cultural figures called on the government to act

Nearly 100 leading actors, writers, directors and cultural figures released an open letter Wednesday urging the British government to save a performing arts industry “on the brink of ruin.”

Signed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, James McAvoy, Tom Stoppard and other Olivier Award nominees, the statement warns that without intervention, theaters face the possibility of shuttering for good as venues run out of funds without audiences to bolster revenue. Focused on the performing arts sector as a whole, the letter calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to take steps that ensure against this future.

“The threat of British theatre being destroyed by accident is as real as it is bleak,” read the letter, published in the Guardian. “It would not only be a spiritual tragedy but an economic one.”

The signatories point to recent data from the UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre that states 70% of theaters in the United Kingdom will run out of money by the end of the year. The fallout of such a possibility would be devastating for the industry’s workforce. In 2018, theater employed 290,000 workers, with over 70% of those positions “now at risk,” according to the study.

“The pandemic has brought theatre to its knees,” the letter stated. “Theatres do not have the money to operate viably with physical distancing. It is difficult to see venues opening before the end of the year.”

The news arrives as producer Cameron Mackintosh announced that four major West End productions will not return to the stage until 2021. Citing uncertainty around when audiences will be able to safely return to the theater, Mackintosh pushed back the reopening dates of “Les Misérables,” “Mary Poppins,” “Hamilton” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Echoing statements made in the letter released by theater industry creatives, Mackintosh called on the government to take “actions to ensure this priceless resource at which the British people excel is helped to survive.”

“Despite the government engaging with the desperate pleas from everyone in the theatre industry, so far there has been no tangible practical support beyond offers to go into debt which I don’t want to do,” the producer said, noting he funds his productions himself. “Their inability to say when the impossible constraints of social distancing will be lifted makes it equally impossible for us to properly plan for whatever the new future is.”

On Wednesday, Dowden stated that the government would use the next few weeks to convene “experts in a targeted way, bringing together our leading performers from theatre, choirs and orchestras with medical experts and advisors.” During his briefing, the culture secretary did not reveal concrete plans for a rescue package.

Driving home the financial reality of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, a new report by Oxford Economics further stated that the arts industry as a whole faces a £74 billion loss in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the theater industry, the study indicated a £3 billion revenue decline, though the report does not factor in audience reluctance to return to stages. Approximately 406,000 jobs across the creative sector are reported to be at risk.

“Our creative industries have been one of the UK’s biggest success stories,” Caroline Norbury, head of the national advocacy organization Creative Industries Federation, said. “But what today’s report makes clear is that, without additional government support, we are heading for a cultural catastrophe.”

Top Image: Theatre Royal Stratford East auditorium. Photo: Jamie Lumley.