Written evidence submitted by London Theatre Consortium
London Theatre Consortium is a collective of world-class producing theatres in London: Almeida Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre, The Bush, Donmar Warehouse, The Gate, Hampstead Theatre, The Kiln Theatre, Lyric Hammersmith, Royal Court Theatre, Soho Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, the Unicorn, The Yard and Young Vic.
The following is true of our organisations:
• Our organisations cannot operate as normal while people can’t gather - live theatre is defined by intimate public gatherings in our theatres, in our bars and on our stages. We align with the hospitality industry to say that incorporating social distancing measures by reducing capacity is not possible - administratively, practically and certainly not economically. While many of us have digital output that may enable us to reach some audiences and generate some revenue, these are new and emerging business models, often operating at break-even or a loss, and are no substitute for the live experience.
• We will not be able to re-open immediately when asked to do so - we will need a period to create new work, with artists and production teams able to work together in close proximity, without social distancing. For most, this will be a minimum of 3 months, for others more.
• We will need to re-open when we can stay open - a model whereby we open and close during waves of the virus is not workable in an industry in which the creation of work takes time and involves the contracting of many freelance artists. Selling and refunding tickets on a rolling basis dismantles audience trust. Test / track / trace makes our performing companies and key staff vulnerable to sudden isolation, impacting shows.
Therefore, this is our collective position:
• We support the notion of a “National Time Out” whereby our theatres, workforces, communities and pipelines of work are protected until the virus is no longer a public health risk and we can operate under full and free conditions. We ask that the Job Retention Scheme continues for live public cultural industries until this time. This enables us to retain our highly skilled workforce and be ready to re-open as quickly as we can, without the need to rebuild from scratch.
• We ask that the Emergency Funds provided by ACE do not dwindle beyond September 2020 which is the period they currently cover. Most well-run theatres adhering to their reserves policy, accessing the Job Retention Scheme, deferring major overheads, pumping our donor pool and judiciously cost-cutting should weather the storm through the summer. It is in the second half of the financial year that we very quickly fall off a cliff. Beyond this, as organisations that are heavily reliant on fundraising, we anticipate further income challenges as a result of economic downturn.
• We are facing the reality that we cannot make work as usual in our buildings for a year or more. This poses an unprecedented economic challenge. We are already planning what experimental work we can do in our buildings in the interim, how we can support our local civic communities, schools and young people, and where we can collaborate with artists across the UK and the world during this time. We are charities - we work with social purpose and artistic risk as well as commercial flair and we will be critical to London’s and the nation’s recovery. Enabling such work will need flexibility and imagination from our teams and from our funders. Then, when we can re-open, the difficult balancing decisions we make week in, week out will be exacerbated. We will need DCMS support in this endeavour.