Government under fire for ‘not doing enough’ to support theatre industry

Many feel ‘aggrieved’ by theatre closures as they are ‘safe spaces’ for staff and audience members.

Alistair Mason
Tuesday 21 December 2021 21:23
The Lyceum Theatre in central London (PA)
The Lyceum Theatre in central London (PA)

The Government has come under fire for “not doing enough” to support the theatre industry following the Treasury’s announcement of a £30 million recovery fund.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Tuesday that cultural organisations in England can access a further £30 million funding via the culture recovery fund as well as one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

Timothy Kelly, 27, a theatre technician from north London said he hopes Mr Sunak’s announcement will “help keep venues afloat”, but is worried about the impact it will have on freelance workers.

Timothy Kelly, 27, a theatre technician from North London, said he hopes Mr Sunak’s announcement will “help keep venues afloat” but is worried about the impact it will have on freelance workers. (Timothy Kelly)

Mr Kelly told the PA news agency: “Hopefully theatre venues will not need to close forever if their shows are cancelled, but I struggle to see how it will be enough to support the freelancers.

“A lot of it is the contractual issues as well, which is just born out of the more general instability that Covid has created, and which is why we need the targeted support for freelancers.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has also been accused of “keeping a low profile” on issues regarding the theatre sector.

Responding to Mr Sunak’s announcement, she tweeted: “It’s important that we give as much support as we can to creative institutions and ensure that they are still there, standing strong to keep people employed, informed and entertained.”

But, Mr Kelly criticised the Culture Secretary for “not engaging with the theatre industry” and “wilfully ignoring the crisis that’s happening under her watch”.

He told PA: “We really needed the Government to understand the specific situation that theatres have found themselves in, with our workforce being 70% freelance.

“So that just bailing out the buildings, it represented a lack of interest in actively engaging with how the industry worked.”

Mr Sunak’s announcement followed a string of cancelled theatre performances, with The Lion King and Life Of Pi among the West End shows having to dim their lights due to Covid-enforced staff shortages.

Tom Fitch, a lighting technician and production electrician currently working on the Broadway musical The Book Of Mormon, said he will be made redundant for a second time if the show is closed.

Originally from Liverpool but now based in London, Mr Fitch said redundancy would force him to leave the city that has been his home for seven years as he would no longer be able to afford his rent.

Tom Fitch, a lighting technician and production electrician currently working on the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. (Tom Fitch)

He told PA: “Luckily there was the furlough scheme last time, which allowed me to stay afloat and allowed me to continue living in London because I had fairly cheap rent.

“But I don’t think that’s going to be a thing this time and if we do end up going into another lockdown or the theatres close… then it would mean uprooting and going home, to a home that hasn’t been my home for years.”

Meanwhile, John Plews, chairman of the Society of Independent Theatres, said many theatres feel “aggrieved” by closures as they are “safe spaces” where staff and audience members are encouraged to wear masks and use hand sanitiser.

He told PA: “We’re are usually inundated with people wanting to hire the theatre… but they’re reluctant to commit because of the uncertainty of what’s going to happen over the next couple of months.

“If you lose money at Christmas, then unfortunately it has a great knock-on effect for the rest of the year.”

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