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NEWS: SOLT & UK Theatre survey reveals 95% of theatre organisations are worse off due to Covid

A year ago, on 16 March 2020, theatres across the country closed their doors due to the pandemic. Survey results collected by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre from across the theatre sector paint a picture of an industry that has struggled to survive the past 12 months and faced huge financial strain – but remains resilient and adaptable.

The results show:

  • Over 95% of theatre organisations worse off due to Covid and one in four freelancers out of business
  • Hope for the future following Government roadmap announcement, with 83% of survey respondents planning to restart trading from 21 June – but many dependent on creation of Government-backed theatre insurance scheme and adaptation of Theatre Tax Relief
  • Freelancers in urgent need of help now after a year of no work, and stars including Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Jackman, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Michaela Coel join industry colleagues in supporting Theatre Artists Fund’s #16March campaign to raise awareness and money
  • Sam Mendes, director and Theatre Artists Fund co-founder, today thanks those involved, and says they have ‘helped enable fellow members of our community stay afloat during these extremely difficult times’

The survey was completed by 944 theatre venues, venue groups, non-venue theatre businesses and individual theatre freelancers. Over 95% of surveyed theatre organisations around the UK reported being worse off because of Covid. Fifty-three of the 186 theatre organisations answering a question about financial loss due to Covid reported a loss of over £1 million each – this includes 16 organisations who have lost over £5 million each. The total loss of those 165 organisations able to provide figures is estimated at nearly £200 million so far.

The survey also reveals that many of the highly skilled 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 due to Covid. Two hundred and seventy 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 due to Covid – despite the fact that the majority (61%) will operate at a loss. Almost half are developing a revenue-generating digital space or product.

For England-based theatre organisations, 60% are planning to restart trading from 17 May (Step 3 of the Government Roadmap), and 83% said they would resume from 21 June (Roadmap 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 right now, and face weeks and months of uncertainty before theatres can fully reopen.

To mark 16 March, a host of famous faces have joined colleagues from across the theatre industry in highlighting the plight of freelancers and raising awareness for the Theatre Artists Fund, using the social media hastags #16March #TheatreArtistsFund and #FirstInLastOut – referencing the fact that theatre workers were first into lockdown and will be among the last to return to work.

Sam Mendes, director and co-founder of the Theatre Artists Fund, 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 Joe Alwyn, Ellie Bamber, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Michaela Coel, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anne-Marie Duff, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfie Enoch, Michael Fassbender, Claire Foy, Hugh Jackman, Ruth Madeley, Ian McKellen, Liam Neeson, James Norton, Sophie Okonedo, Weruche Opia, Andi Osho, Elaine Paige, Maxine Peake, Simon Pegg, Eddie Redmayne, Imelda Staunton, Juliet Stevenson, Mark Strong, David Walliams, Harriet Walter, Zoë Wanamaker, Emily Watson, Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson and Kate Winslet.

from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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