Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Four Voices from Wales

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Writer, Director, Manager, Member of Senedd , Collapse of the Arts of Wales , July 2, 2020
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Writer, Director, Manager, Member of Senedd The Playwright's Voice: “Whatever theatres are doing during lockdown, they’re not doing theatre. I wonder if they might be better off using this time to prepare for when theatre can return. If it can return.

“Theatre as an art form will exist as long as humans do, But theatre as we’ve known it in this country – with theatres in every city and one in most big towns – that whole set-up will not survive this crisis. All theatres have mothballed and furloughed their staff, but they still have to pay the costs of keeping their buildings going. And they have no income. Most theatres in Britain will run out of money in September, and all of them will by Christmas.

“In normal times, of course, theatre is a huge net generator of revenue for the treasury. Just the VAT paid by the West End theatres of London is greater than Arts Council England’s subsidy for theatre in the whole of England. And theatre is the foundation on which our TV and film industries are built. But unless the government bails out the sector, then when we finally emerge from lockdown the Sherman, the New Theatre, the Wales Millennium Centre – they’ll all be gone.’ The clamour for urgent financial aid from all quarters is already deafening, and much work is needed to ensure that theatre’s pleas are amplified sufficiently to be heard.”

Gary Owen speaking to Wales Arts Review 23rd June

The Venue Director- “We’ve been around a long time. We’re on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, on the north edge of the South Wales coalfield. The venue was set up in 1934 and we’re one of the very few miners’ welfare halls still running independently, doing what we were set up to do which is serve the community. This was where local people came to ‘better themselves’ – there was a library and reading room. We’ve got former coalfield workers who use the space– we give them free access. We’re surrounded by what’s called a Communities First area [the 100 most deprived electoral divisions as identified by the 2000 Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation].Even though we’re only 25 minutes by car to Swansea, because of transport problems – the transport infrastructure is poor – most people rely on us as their local venue. We’ve got an educational, entertainment and cultural role – the only thing we don’t do is politics, which was one of the original raison d’etres.

“We don’t produce work, but there are occasional co-productions. We’ve got a multi-purpose space here – with use as a theatre and cinema. We’re home from home for many people. We’re open generally every day of the week, with two days of the week busy in terms of community arts activity run by arts professionals. A lot of community groups and organisations use us on a regular basis – some are for older people, and they’re all missing out as a result of the shutdown. It was important to people that they could go and see something like 42nd Street on screen, musicals are popular but we also put on other kinds of challenging work – and that access to entertainment is going to be seriously missed.

“The local town council has been very supportive over the years, and with all the cutbacks we’ve managed to survive – we’re good value for money in terms of public funding, we generate a lot of income. We offer room hire so we’re losing a major income stream in terms of the community groups that now can’t use us. That income generation of people popping in for their own event has been a real blow. There’s a school of thought that people will be eager for theatre and cinema once this is all over and rush back out to support their local venues. We rely on an older demographic to support us through sales income – the ones who spend money are an older audience – so if they’re not confident the NHS is going to be able to look after them they’re not necessarily going to be able to come out.

“I know that a lot of people aren’t engaging online too, so if they’ve lost the habit of getting involved with us you don’t know what the knock-on effects will be. We’ve had a government grant for £25,000 but if the closures run late into the year and into next, that could be potential [permanent] closure if the support isn’t there. At the moment we’re OK but by the autumn, the question is will there be more grants available? Nobody knows what’s next.

Wynne Roberts, director of The Welfare Ystradgynlais, 17th April

The Freelancer Director- “As a freelancer my work is eclectic and diverse, and as well as taking freelance contracts, over the past few years I have been a lecturer at a university. When lecturing, you have to take PAYE work. I am just over the threshold of PAYE work so cannot access the SEISS scheme and the university are refusing to furlough me. I feel ACW have been excellent. I can’t begin to imagine the hours it would have taken them to repurpose all that they were doing in order to release the emergency funds. And so many people have reached out to me knowing I am receiving no financial support, and this has been so valuable for my own wellbeing so can only imagine others like me feel the same.”

“That freelance artists, embedded within their communities, are given the platform and the respect they deserve. We should be encouraging venues to contract freelancers on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, many freelancers won’t survive the current hit. Many won’t want to come back to an industry who failed to catch them, and I don’t blame them.”

Angharad Lee talking to Wales Arts Review

The Opposition: “The long-overdue announcement from the UK Government about the financial support for the Arts Sector still hasn’t been made, which means there’s no sign of consequential funding for Wales. Welsh Government must now design a bespoke scheme for this struggling industry, utilising its own resources as best it can in the absence of support from the Tories in Westminster. Surely there are flexibilities in the furlough scheme so its workers can continue to be paid whilst other industries are able start up again?

“The Arts plays an intrinsic role here in Wales; not only historically and culturally, but in our everyday lives. It has played a crucial role in helping people deal with the significant psychological pressures caused by the lockdown; we have all taken comfort in music, books, TV, or films – all products of the Arts Sector.

“If the industry is properly supported, it can continue to play a central part in our lives, and it can help us process what we’ve been through together during these unprecedented times.

“We owe it to future generations in Wales to protect this crucial part of our society. The Well-being of Future Generations Act refers to evidence that shows that ‘valuing arts and creativity is beneficial for our economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being’. We cannot rob ourselves, nor our children and grandchildren of such a significant contributor to well-being.

“The news about the Millennium Centre is deeply concerning and is reflective of the crisis facing the creative industry in Wales unless Government acts. Welsh Government must tell us specifically what support they will be offering to institutions like the Millennium Centre and to other cultural organisations across Wales. Furthermore, the Westminster government must provide flexibility through the Job Retention Scheme to those sectors that will suffer disproportionately due to this crisis - such as tourism and the arts.

“The arts form a crucial pillar of the Welsh economy and they will play a key role in our recovery from Covid-19 – we must seek assurances that Welsh Government is doing all it can to support the sector before it’s too late. The Arts industry can help the Welsh government communicate its key messages, but if we don't put creative arts in the centre of initiatives and don't give them a role during the pandemic, we risk losing talented people”

Siân Gwenllian, Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Education, Culture and the Welsh Language, 12th June

Abridged with thanks and acknowledgement. Full reports-

Gary Owen at:

https://www.walesartsreview.org/interview-gary-owen/

Wynne Roberts at:

http://www.criticalmuse.com/stage/april-2020-pt2-british-theatres-shutdown-described-by-industry-insiders/

Siân Gwenllian at:

https://www.partyof.wales/support_arts_sector

Angharad Lee at:

https://www.walesartsreview.org/the-future-of-theatre-in-wales/

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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