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Actors from diverse backgrounds suffer most from the impact of theatre closures, RSC says

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has today warned that many UK theatre companies could close and the theatre world will become unable to support diverse communities if 'the pain continues' under coronavirus lockdown rules.

Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director, said there was a 'real risk' of company closure for a 'substantial length of time' if they cannot reopen before Christmas.

She also warned that young actors including those from diverse backgrounds would suffer most from the impact of theatre closures, especially in the regions.

Ms Whyman said: 'I feel there is a real risk that many, many theatre companies will either close for a very substantial length of time if we don't have clarity that we can get our theatres open and working before Christmas.

'I think some we won't see recover, that has to be said out loud.

'There will be some that cannot find their way back from that crisis, because if they can't get back open by Christmas that's getting on for nine months they will be closed, and they will have lost the income from that critical Christmas period.'

Image credit Analysis of Theatre in England - Final Report.pdf, Arts Council England Analysis of Theatre in England Final Report by BOP Consulting & Graham Devlin Associates 13th September 2016

Her intervention comes after Boris Johnson last week said live indoor theatre can resume with socially distanced audiences from August 1 - subject to pilots.

Ms Whyman added: 'In the main, we are charities - not all of us, some are of us are in the commercial sector - but most of us are charities.

Also, Dame Judi Dench has warned that Britain's theatres may never reopen in her lifetime as entertainment venues face permanent closure after lockdown.

The 85-year-old actress said she 'can't imagine Britain without its arts heritage' as theatres across the UK face an 'existential risk' of closure.

Speaking with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News, Dame Judi said: 'I think that what is so strange is that we imagine that this is a temporary thing - this is happening just now and when the pandemic passes it's all going to go back to normal.

'It will, maybe, for some people - it certainly won't for all of us in the theatre.'

She said: 'I do think that (the theatres face permanent closure) because if the theatres now close, become dark, I don't know when we're going to get them back. You can't run a theatre, for instance, with people sitting six seats apart. You can't run a theatre if it's a quarter full, no.

'It doesn't just affect the public, it affects all of us - not just actors, but the crew and the people who make wigs, the people who dress us, the stage doormen, the lighting - every single person, the people in the box office - everyone's affected by it, and none of us has any security or knowledge to know when it will come back.

'When you hear that the (Old) Vic is in trouble, and you hear the Nuffield in Southampton is in trouble, and Leicester and Nottingham and Southport - this is what we rely on, and it's a desperate feeling.

'Will they ever reopen again? I don't know, certainly not in my lifetime.'

'We are driven by a mission to share theatre and theatre-making with the widest possible community. And we just won't be fit to do that if the pain continues.'

Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director of RSC. Image credit Sound Health and Lasting Wealth

The RSC works closely with 12 regional partner theatres across the UK, including The Grand Theatre in Blackpool and the Hull Truck Theatre.

Recent projects with its national partners include Shakespeare Nation, an adult participation programme which launched in 2019 with projects in Blackpool, Nottingham and Hull.

Ms Whyman said she was 'very worried about the most diverse talent in our industry'.

She added: 'Younger generations in the main who are more diverse in several ways, in their socio-economic background, ethnic background, artists who identify as deaf or disabled.

'We have seen many more people come into the performing arts in the last decade and that has been a very good thing.

'And we know from research we have already conducted that they are the most likely to leave, to not feel they can stick out in this kind of economic climate.'

The Government has previously announced a £1.57billion support package for the arts, with music venues, theatres, museums, galleries, independent cinemas and heritage sites eligible for emergency grants and loans.

Ms Whyman said: 'We were very glad and relieved to hear about the package of money that will be distributed to the performing arts but at this moment it's really important to say we still don't know when that will be.'

She also suggested that Shakespeare's work had increased meaning during the pandemic because the playwright himself lived through multiple lockdowns during the plague.

'You underestimate him at your peril', she said.

'He lived through so many different lockdowns and we are seeing the plays through different eyes now.

'He wrote them either during the lockdown or immediately afterwards and often he is talking about what it is like to emerge back into the world and be reunited with family.

'I think he would recognise this world. He might have some advice.'

image credit Sound Health and Lasting Wealth

Even Andrew Lloyd Webber warns that Chinese investors are set to buy London's West End theatres if Government does not get the industry back up and running.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has said that Chinese investors could be set to buy up London's West End theatres.

The composer told The Daily Telegraph that overseas buyers could take advantage of the precarious financial position that UK theatres find themselves in.

'Major buyers are circling who are not British and would like to own West End theatres,' he said.

He said that during the recent sale of the Theatre Royal Haymarket the price was inflated by a Chinese bidder.

Sir Sam Mendes says opening theatres with social distancing will be like 'pouring money down the drain'.

Live indoor theatre and concerts can resume with the measures in place from the start of next month.

But the Bond filmmaker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that 'any theatre has to run at 60 per cent, 70 per cent capacity to even break even'.

He added: 'So to run at 30 per cent capacity... means pouring money down the drain, money which is not there.'

Sir Sam wants theatres to reopen without social distancing at the end of the year.

'I'm not arguing that they should reopen with no social distancing now,' he told Today.

'But there has to be a 'no earlier than' date - my suggestion is that should be early December, which gives theatres time to plan.'

He said it would be 'up to the audience on whether they want to take the risk', adding that 'at the moment there's a risk just leaving the house...'

A fund set up by Sir Sam to help workers in the theatre industry has raised £1.6 million.

The director of films such as Skyfall and 1917, and plays including The Lehman Trilogy and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, said the money will be used to support 1,600 freelancers.

However, almost 4,000 people have applied for support from the Theatre Artists Fund in one week.

Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Image credit Sound Health and Lasting Wealth

Stars including Imelda Staunton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Colin Firth and Hugh Bonneville have donated to the fund, which was established with a £500,000 donation from streaming giant Netflix.

Sir Sam urged others to 'come forward and show their support to help those in need'.

The theatre was bought for a reported £45 million, paid by the billionaire Sir Leonard Blavatnik in 2018.

This far exceeded other price tags for London theatres, including the Victoria Palace, which Cameron Mackintosh bought for about £26 million in 2014, and the Palace Theatre, in 2012.

Lord Lloyd Webber added: 'So it might not just be Chinese phone networks the Government has to worry about.'

He also said the sector had received 'no clarity' from the Government about how its £1.57 billion support package for the arts will be distributed.

Lord Lloyd Webber warned that without urgent funds and a clear timeline for reopening, theatre owners will be forced to put the buildings up for sale.

The composers' comments come as the UK announced it would ban Chinese firm Huawei from its 5G network.

The government had previously said Huawei could be involved in the project but it changed its mind following growing security concerns about China.

Following government advice, theatres have been closed since 16 March to help slow the spread of Coronavirus, with many warning that they will go out of business in the coming months without support.

Image credit Park Theatre

Earlier this month, the National Theatre told their 400 members of casual staff that they will lose their jobs in a move it described as unavoidable due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, 72, has been trialling measures at the London Palladium that could allow the theatre business to get back up and running after Phantom Of The Opera continued in South Korea with strict hygiene measures and no social distancing.

Yesterday, the composer hosted a pilot performance by Beverley Knight at the London Palladium, which had strict social distancing measures in place and was at 30 per cent capacity. It is one of many events to gauge the viability of live entertainment amid the coronavirus pandemic. Audience members were given an assigned arrival time and spread sparsely across the auditorium, with some rows left empty.

Speaking after the performance, Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of LW Theatres - the venue's owner - said it was a 'relief' to reopen the doors.

She added: 'I want to get this place back open, no social distancing.

'And hopefully, today has demonstrated that we run a tight ship, we know how to manage things, we have the right mitigations in place, and people just need this back in their lives.

'Beverley needs it, the freelancers need it, the 290,000 in our industry - they need to get back into work. We are not a risk. We know how to do things properly. I'm excited.'

She added: 'Hopefully today is the first step in showing the world, Public Health England, DCMS, whoever needs to see the evidence, we manage a tight ship.'

Image credit Park Theatre

Last week, Mr Johnson announced that live indoor theatre and concerts would be able to resume with socially-distanced audiences from August 1 - subject to the success of pilots.

But British film director Sir Sam Mendes says opening the venues with social distancing will be like 'pouring money down the drain'.

The Bond filmmaker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that 'any theatre has to run at 60 per cent, 70 per cent capacity to even break even'.

He added: 'So to run at 30 per cent capacity... means pouring money down the drain, money which is not there.'

Theatres will be able to open with reduced venue capacity and limited ticket sales to ensure social distancing, while tickets will be purchased online and venues encouraged to use e-tickets to reduce contact and help with track and trace.

There will also be increased deep cleaning of auditoriums, and performances will be scheduled to allow sufficient time for cleaning before the next audience arrives.

The London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke's in London is also among the art venues piloting new arrangements.

Source: Daily Mail


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