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The final curtain?

By Emma Kane
26 June 2020

By Emma Kane, Chief Executive

The creative industries have been one of the UK’s biggest success stories but have been hit harder than almost any other sector in the British economy during Covid-19 according to research by the Office for National Statistics.

Recent ONS data shows that the arts, entertainment and recreation industry is the joint highest user of the furlough scheme.  Oxford Economics predicts that the UK’s creative industries will be hit twice as hard as the wider economy overall and up to three times as hard regionally.  They described it recently as a ‘Cultural catastrophe’ predicting that over 400,000 creative jobs could be lost and £1.4 billion a week in revenue in 2020.  

Last night the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden published a five-stage plan for a “phased return” for theatres – starting with socially distanced rehearsals, then performances for broadcast (again socially distanced) before outdoor performances with an audience are allowed.  Only later on will even limited indoor audiences be permitted.

However, unlike football stadiums, theatres cannot survive with empty auditoriums.  Unlike football, theatres don’t have multi million-pound broadcast deals and the associated advertising and sponsorship deals.

If the Government fails to get the level and type of support right then it will have dire consequences.  Not only on what makes us a civilised society and gives so much pleasure to so many, but to the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people, on the ability for the tourism and hospitality sectors to get back on their feet.  It would not only be an own goal but it could cost billions of pounds to the economy.  

Social distancing does not work financially for theatres. As in the hospitality industry, such measures would dramatically reduce venues' takings, and therefore their financial viability.  The cost of opening venues remains the same and possibly significantly higher when the potentially massive increases in insurance and other such items are taken into account.

Some theatres have been able to stream productions during lockdown.  For most the cost of installing the technology is prohibitive, for many venues, they don’t own the productions that are hiring their space…

So, most theatres look set to be closed for several months – some are planning to reopen for the Christmas period.  Many will be hoping to get the whole of 2020 behind them and aren’t planning to open again until January 2021 at the earliest.

If the Government gets this wrong, the damage could be irreversible.