James Haddrell: The survival of theatre and financial support

Over the past few weeks the word emergency has become incredibly significant in theatre, as Arts Council England has been assessing and responding to applications to their emergency response fund from individual artists, companies and venues.

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

The grants on offer are unprecedented – offering a £20million fund to share between individual artists, a £50million fund for distribution among organisations who are not already part of ACE’s national portfolio of regularly funded organisations, and £90million between those organisations in the portfolio. The grants are unprecedented, but that’s as it should be – unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions.

Greenwich Theatre is among the list of organisations not in the funder’s regular portfolio which has been selected to receive financial support, and while we still need help to get through this period of closure, the funds will certainly help.

We have survived before – the theatre was famously saved from demolition and reopened in 1969, and again survived a period of closure at the end of the 1990s.

We have come back from the brink before, and with help we are confident that we can do it again.

However, this time it’s different. We are not the only venue at risk, nor the only company. The whole theatre ecology is under threat, and organisations like ours and those operating on a larger scale need to consider our place in that ecology.

For us to survive is not enough. We need to collectively ensure that the current generation of early career artists, those who support the development of their craft with the kind of part-time jobs that have all evaporated, are in a position to continue working in the industry during and beyond the current crisis; the organisations and individuals who represent the grass-roots of British theatre, who may not yet be able to navigate the application process, who may struggle to pay their rent.

Our successful application to ACE did not yield enough to save the organisation, but it puts us in a good position.

With a continued flow of donations from supporters and with advance ticket buyers making a commitment to return in the autumn, we stand a good chance of coming through this – but if we reopen with no new artists making work, we reopen for no reason.

Theatres across the country need to ensure that as well as supporting themselves through this tough time, they are also supporting the theatre-makers of tomorrow – or face a decade or more of unimaginative programming from a limited pool of established theatre companies.

The theatre world can only return to its former glory if the whole theatre landscape returns intact, and for that to happen the large companies and venues need to step up and add their support to the new theatre-makers that are facing extinction.

That support will come in a range of ways. For us, we are moving our annual children’s theatre festival online, so we will be commissioning a range of emerging companies to provide shows and workshops.

We will be presenting plays by new writers, providing work for a company of professional actors, and offering commissions to new companies looking to try out new ideas in the digital sphere.

For other venues, the support may look different, but it needs to be forthcoming. Survival on the mid-scale is not survival if the generation of early-career artists developing the theatre of tomorrow does not also survive.

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