Submission to DCMS Call for evidence.
Who we are:
Derby Theatre is a midscale producing theatre in the East Midlands. We have a long and rich history of delivering high quality drama and unique learning experiences. Through Derby Theatre's unique partnership with the University of Derby, and as an Arts Council England National Portfolio organisation, the Theatre has transformed from a traditional producing house, to an organisation of training, mentorship and artistic excellence, we put the community at the heart of everything we do.
We are a producing house (two auditoria – 535 and 110) which combines its professional programme with an exciting suite of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, as well as an emerging talent programme aimed at developing the next generation of artists and a community engagement programme reaching out across our region including people of all ages and from all backgrounds.
We serve audiences of approximately 100,000 people a year and engage with 19,000 community participants on an annual basis.
During lockdown we have prioritised this audience: from delivering food parcels to the young people in care we work with, to phone check ins with our more elderly customers we know our position in the community is crucial and we have tried to rise to the challenge of the pandemic.
The industry has been decimated.
In a practical sense, all business has stopped. We are no longer able to engage with our community in participation sessions (building confidence and self esteem), in academic teaching (training the next generation of artists and supporting the school curriculum) or in entertaining our audiences (supporting the night-time economy, tourist industry and community cohesion).
In a more long term sense the careers of actors, directors, educators, artists, technicians, theatre makers, designers, composers etc has been halted. Those who are just graduating have been stopped before they have even begun. For those from the most diverse backgrounds this may be a blow from which they never recover as pathways into the industry become more complex after this.
Audience confidence has been shattered, even when lockdown finishes the question of how and if audiences will return is uncertain.
Crucial and important development work bringing culture to communities who do not engage has been paused and will need twice the work to restart.
• How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?
The Job Retention scheme has been crucial and must continue during the coming months as we ease out of lockdown and slowly rebuild our audiences. For us ticket income represents about 60% of our income, without the JRS we simply can not survive and will have to make redundancies. Business Rate Relief has also been useful.
Arts Council have been transparent, fleet of foot and supportive and they now need the ability to support the sector in the long term. Whilst other industries will spring back to life once lockdown is finished the arts and culture will take much longer to recover. It is not the next 3 weeks we are concerned with but the next 3 years. We need ACE to be empowered to be able to support us through this challenging time.
UK Theatre has been informative and engaged, acting as an effective conduit of information.
• What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?
Lack of audience confidence in returning: A strong message from Government on how venues can be seen as “safe” spaces and a kitemarked scheme to help us prove that we are engaging in set standards.
Continued loss of income: Continued financial support, through the Job Retention Scheme, through direct grants and other subsidy.
Aversion to risk taking and diversity: Naturally the sector will look for quick wins which bring large audiences immediately but this could be to the detriment of taking risks on more diverse or new work. We must ensure our programme is broad so that people of all ages and all backgrounds see Culture as part of their lives. The industry needs investment to be able to take these risks.
• What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?
Communication is key. Organisations need to know (before the public) information on risks, plans and issues. Horizon scanning which includes organisations would help prepare for future events such as this.
• How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?
Smaller organisations need support and help to make digital work whilst they can so that during periods like this all organisations have “oven ready” products to share with audiences and the resources to do so.
Theatres are civically engaged and can be seen as a key ally in regenerating communities, the economy and supporting the health and wellbeing of our society.