Written evidence submitted by Theatre Royal Plymouth
A Theatre sector response – Theatre Royal Plymouth
What has been the immediate impact of COVID-19 on the sector?
The enforced closure of all theatres forcing the immediate curtailment of all performances, producing activity, box office sales and future marketing activities plus the cessation of all catering, retailing and production manufacturing trading activities. The consequent loss of all trading income. TRP earns 91% of its c£18/20 million annual turnover from its combined trading activities. The remaining 9% comes from ACE and Local Authority funding. Our monthly payroll costs are c£450k. 88% of our staff are currently on furlough. Mutual peer support within the theatre sector has been regular and strong from the outset of the crisis.
Our Engagement and Learning teams have adopted new remote working delivery models to ensure regular creative communication with our community programmes and particularly those involving our more socially vulnerable groups. Trusts and Foundations have been immediately supportive of this new pragmatic approach to our work.
How effectively has the support provided by the DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?
The support offered by the CJRS has been invaluable in the short-term in enabling theatres to retain their workforce capacity during the initial closure period. The subsequent extension to the scheme to the end of June has been extremely welcome. The Arts Council’s NPO Support Fund of £90 million is also a potential boon although its focus purely on economic survival until September will not address the longer term (and potentially larger) economic threat facing the theatre sector beyond then (see below).
What will the likely long-term impacts of COVID-19 be on the sector and what support is needed to deal with those?
The mid to long term impact will be theatres having to remain ‘dark’ (ie without shows on their stages) for many months after the ‘lockdown’ restrictions are lifted due to the absence of productions to present. The lead in time required in order to produce and market any theatre production ranges between 3/4 months and two years depending on the scale of the project. So, although theatre buildings may be free to reopen and their staff will need paying by the theatre company concerned, they will have no productions to stage (whether produced in-house or toured-in) to drive ticket sales and all other vital ancillary income streams. In the absence of all earned income, any continued government CJRS or other support and with reserves exhausted the company would be obliged to wind up. In practice this could only be ameliorated if the government’s CJRS were to be maintained for the theatre sector until venues were able to re-open with productions on their stages.
What lessons can be learned from how DCMS arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with COVID-19?
The C-19 crisis has exposed how many theatres, including some relatively well-known subsidised venues, have been operating with very low to negligible levels of reserves. This shortcoming in governance and management immediately exposes such venues to the risk of insolvency as soon as their normal trading patterns are disrupted. Without urgent ‘bail out’ funding such venues face immediate existential threat. Although other better governed venues still face grave financial risk, they at least have a level of reserve to buy time and contribute to a potential pluralistic survival package with funding partners.
The impact on all theatres has obviously been colossal. Paradoxically, however, it is the more resilient organisations (ie those with least reliance on public subsidy who earn most of their income via ticket sales and trading activities) which face the biggest economic challenges.
How might the sector evolve after COVID-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?
In emerging from the constraints of the C-19 crisis theatres may need to consider what sort of work and engagement will be relevant and most effectively help to move communities from a ‘coping’ space into a ‘creative’ space which builds community cohesion and resilience. As with Picasso’s comment I didn’t draw the war but the war is in my drawings, there is a powerful opportunity for towns and cities to respond collectively to their shared experiences of C-19 to build a shared creative response that speaks of their emotional journey through C-19 and its legacy. This would necessarily be a highly participative process and involve much local digital and social media input.