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Survey reveals devastating plight of UK theatre industry

More than 95 per cent of 944 UK theatre venues, producers and businesses were worse off financially due to COVID-19, according to a survey by UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).

The report comes as a year ago today (Tuesday), theatres across the country closed their doors due to the pandemic and have mostly remained shuttered ever since.

Since then, 53 organisations reported a loss of over £1m each, including 16 organisations who have lost over £5m each. The total loss of the 165 organisations able to provide figures is estimated at nearly £200m so far.

The survey also reveals that many of the freelance theatre workforce have been forced to take alternative jobs during the pandemic, or even leave the sector altogether. One in four of the freelancers surveyed said they had gone out of business or ceased trading over the past 12 months. It highlights that of these freelancers 270 alternative roles were sought within performing arts, and 456 outside the industry.

Almost a third of theatre venue respondents said they have had plans to create an outdoor performance space, despite the fact that the majority, 61 per cent, will operate at a loss. In addition, almost half are developing a revenue-generating digital space or product.

For England-based theatre organisations, 60 per cent are planning to restart trading from May 17 in line with Step 3 of the Government Roadmap, while 83 per cent said they would resume from June 21 in line with Step 4.

Julian Bird, chief executive of SOLT and UK Theatre, said: “At that fateful moment a year ago when we were forced to close theatres, we could never have imagined that venues would remain closed today. It has been a year of incredible challenges, and would have been even bleaker were it not for Government support schemes including the Cultural Recovery Fund, furlough and SEISS.

“It has also been a year in which we have truly witnessed the resilience, creativity and community-mindedness of theatre, from digital innovations allowing streamed productions to reach a global audience, to theatres creating educational and wellbeing resources, and venues offering themselves as vaccine centres or hosting pioneering scientific research on measures to prevent Covid spread.

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with Government and industry partners, welcoming audiences safely back into theatres and playing a part in the national economic and social recovery.”

Despite the recent Government roadmap and Budget announcements, thousands of freelancers in the theatre industry are in crisis and face weeks and months of uncertainty before theatres can fully reopen.

To mark the year anniversary of closures, a host of famous faces are joining colleagues from across the theatre industry today in highlighting the plight of freelancers and raising awareness for the Theatre Artists Fund, which provides emergency financial aid to the freelancers.

It has called on these people to draw attention to the issue by using the social media hashtags #16March, #TheatreArtistsFund and #FirstInLastOut, which references the fact that theatre workers were first into lockdown and will be among the last to return to work.

The Theatre Artists Fund, which was created last July by director Sam Mendes, SOLT and UK Theatre, allows eligible freelancers to apply for an individual grant of £1,000 to help pay bills and put food on the table. The latest round of grant applications has opened today and will close on March 30.

Mendes said: “The immense level of support for the #16March Theatre Artists Fund campaign illustrates that while theatres may be closed, the spirit of the theatre community is well and truly alive. I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the campaign, and all those who have shown their fantastic support for the Fund. It has helped enable fellow members of our community stay afloat during these extremely difficult times.”

Those who have lent their support to the #16March campaign include stars Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Michael Fassbender and Claire Foy.