I recently spoke with Jon Morgan, director of Theatres Trust, to find out more about the work of the charity and how theatre can survive these uncertain times.
Can you tell me about the Theatres Trust?
Theatres Trust is a small charity, set up by an Act of Parliament in 1976 in response to an outcry over the shocking number of theatres that had been lost in the 50 years prior. Our mission is to protect theatres for everyone – which means ensuring that everyone can access live performance where they live. We do this by providing advice on the design, planning, development and sustainability of theatres and we support anyone with an interest in theatre buildings – owners, operators, local authorities and campaign groups. We campaign on behalf of theatres old and new and provide advice to ensure theatre buildings meet the current needs and demands of the theatre industry and the audiences they serve.
How are you providing support to theatres during lockdown?
Theatres Trust provides a free advice service to all theatre owners and operators. During lockdown this has been particularly focused on helping theatres with business planning to cope with their sudden dramatic loss of income and with routine maintenance necessary to protect buildings while they are empty. We are taking on an additional advisor so we can give more support to more theatres during this difficult time. We have also set up the Theatres Trust Skills Bank, with the support of our Corporate Supporters, Trustees and other contacts in the theatre sector. This will match theatres with expert professionals offering pro bono advice on a range of issues from insurance to reopening buildings.
Our small grants scheme has been repurposed to allow theatres to apply for funding to make adaptations in line with any new health and safety requirements, such as installing hand sanitiser dispensers, touch-free taps and social distancing markers, or to carry out maintenance to prepare their buildings for reopening after months in hibernation.
The government recently revealed their ‘roadmap’ to getting theatres open again. What would you like to have seen included?
More detail is the short answer. Specifically, theatres need to have ‘not before’ dates for each stage of the roadmap. Shows need to be rehearsed, tours booked and buildings prepared for reopening. This takes planning (a minimum of two months based on conversations we’ve been having) so at the very least, we need timescales for each stage of the roadmap, the earliest dates by which we might be allowed to reopen our auditoriums. And at each step of the roadmap, we need to know what government support will be available.
What do you think theatres need to get them through these difficult times?
Theatres operate on very tight margins so do not have large reserves built up and they saw their main source of income dry up instantly when they closed in March. Those reserves are now running out, so government support is essential if theatres are going to survive this crisis. The furlough scheme was a lifeline for theatres, but it is moving toward increased employer contributions and ends in October before most theatre will be reopened, and none will be back to full capacity. So, we are at a critical point now where urgent government investment is needed. Extending the furlough scheme for the performing arts sector would be a good first step and prevent mass redundancies. Investing in theatres and our cultural infrastructure as part of the ‘New Deal’ to restart the economy would also provide an important boost to local communities and help revitalise our failing high streets.
What can the public do to help?
Support your local theatre – make a donation or buy advance tickets/vouchers where possible if your financial situation allows.
Write to your local MP to tell them how important your local theatre is to you. There has already been cross-party support for more government action to help theatres, but it is vital that they continue to hear this.
Share your stories about theatre on social media. Millions of people go to the theatre every year – family outings to the panto, community groups meeting in theatre cafes and school groups taking part in creative activities. This isn’t just about a handful of well-paid actors in West End theatres and it is important that this message gets out there.
If the worst does happen and your favourite theatre goes into administration, you could set up or join a campaign group, bringing together everyone in your area who cares about the theatre so show that there is support for it. Theatres Trust can give advice about setting up and run an effective campaign group.
What are your hopes for the future of theatre?
These last few months have shown us all how much we miss our theatres, not just for great shows, but as important social and community spaces. I hope that after the pandemic, we remember this and that, both politically and in communities across the UK, there is a greater appreciation of the value of having theatres in every community and for every community.