When theatres fell dark on Monday 16 March 2020, few could have imagined that nearly four months later their doors would remain closed. Their auditoriums decidedly empty and their stages eerily quiet. While lockdown has meant we’ve been able to enjoy award-winning productions streamed directly to our homes, performers, technicians and audiences alike are now eagerly anticipating a return to normality, itching for theatres to raise their curtains once more.
For theatres of all sizes up and down the UK, the lockdown has proved immensely challenging. With no clear certainty as to how or when they will be able to reopen, many industry professionals have been starkly warning that 70% of UK theatres will go out of business in the coming months if they are forced to remain closed. Already Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre has announced its doors will be shut for good, the venue becoming yet another casualty of the pandemic.
While the £1.57 billion investment package announced by the Chancellor on Monday 6 July 2020 was a welcome acknowledgement of the challenges faced by theatres, there is still much work to be done to protect our cultural landscape. The investment is certainly a step in the right direction, but the reality is that for many theatres it will not be enough to keep them out of the dark. In particular, I fear for our nation’s smaller cultural institutions for whom the chance of survival looks bleak.
As someone who grew up two and a half hours away from London, and who is currently studying in the South West, I know first-hand the importance of regional theatre. From dancing with Pasha Kovalev at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre, to watching Richard Alston’s company perform together for one of the last times at the Exeter Northcott, my two most unforgettable memories of live theatre have both been experienced locally.
Often, regional theatre is where the magic begins. It is where we are first introduced to the power of live performance, experience the buzz of the auditorium and the hushed silence of anticipation as the lights begin to dim. Not only do regional theatres play a vital role in widening access to live performance, but they also have a significant artistic, social and economic impact on local towns, helping to shape and build stronger communities.
Now, more than ever, it is vital that we support our local theatres. So, what exactly can we be doing to help them survive?
Firstly, go online and see what your local theatre is up to! With many regional theatres now finding themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, increasingly they are turning to the general public for financial support. The Exeter Northcott Theatre, a registered charity that takes 90% of its income from ticket sales, has recently launched a fundraising appeal calling for public support. The campaign, named “I ♥ Exeter Northcott,” asks people to donate and share their experiences of the venue by completing the sentence “I love Exeter Northcott because…”. A quick glance at the campaign’s home page, and you’ll see members of the public standing shoulder to shoulder with theatre superstars Dame Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton, both of whom performed at the theatre as part of the old Rep system.
When supporting your local theatre, don’t forget to use your voice. The Government’s recent announcement of a £1.57 billion investment package is testament to the hard work of professionals within the industry campaigning tirelessly — for instance wrapping theatres up and down the UK in bright pink tape — to bring about change. On a smaller scale, we can all use our social media as a platform to raise awareness and write to our MPs to ensure our theatres continue to be heard and supported.
Finally, if you can, take all opportunities to give your local theatre a cash injection. Buy a student membership. Look ahead. What’s coming to the theatre in 2021? If there’s something that captures your imagination, buy tickets and don’t worry about whether it will or won’t go ahead. For those of us that have had their upcoming trips to the theatre cancelled, think twice about asking for a refund. If possible, donate the ticket price to the institution’s fundraising campaign to support them through the pandemic.
Our regional theatres are the lifeblood of the UK arts industry, making up some of our most vibrant and innovative cultural landmarks. As we move out of lockdown and start rebuilding our lives, the work they do to bring the wonder of live entertainment to local communities will become more important than ever. Let us not allow them now to be forgotten.
For more information about the “I ♥ Exeter Northcott” campaign, visit the Exeter Northcott website.
– Holly Van Ryssen
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons