Only a privileged will be able to afford arts work, warns Sheffield Theatres

Robert Hastie, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres. Picture: James Hardisty.Robert Hastie, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres. Picture: James Hardisty.
Robert Hastie, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres. Picture: James Hardisty.
THE stage industry is facing irreparable and lasting damage with a future that will see only a privileged few able to afford to work in the arts sector, theatre chiefs have warned.

As theatres across Yorkshire continue to lay dormant, those in charge of the region’s playhouses warn today that the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the cultural sector is becoming increasingly serious.

The Government last month announced a £1.57bn package of support for the UK’s arts, culture and heritage sector but senior figures in Yorkshire theatres warned more needed to be done.

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James Brining, the artistic director of Leeds Playhouse, said: “The longer the situation and the uncertainty around it continues, the more challenging it will be to maintain the current scale of our operation.

“There is an urgent need for theatres across the country, including the Playhouse, to explore different operating models to respond to the changed circumstances we continue to work in.”

Robert Hastie, the artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, which has placed 29 per cent of the workforce at risk of redundancy, also issued a stark assessment for the future.

He said: “The furlough scheme has been a lifeline for theatres but the fact it is now coming to an end is very problematic.

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“We are dealing with a live and changeable situation. On Friday we were able to open the Crucible to the public again for the World Snooker Championships but on Saturday had to close again.

“That was particularly heartbreaking, given all the work that happened behind the scenes to make that was possible.”

Last week, Mr Hastie announced the Lyceum and studio would be closed until next year.

It is hoped there will be some performances at the Crucible in the autumn but that could change at a moment’s notice.

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Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre, like most theatres in the region, relies heavily on its annual pantomime to financially prop up much of the year.

Henry Filloux-Bennett, the theatre’s director and chief executive, said: “We make about a third of our annual income with our pantomime. The lack of clarity around what we can do has been difficult to deal with.

“Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announcing that we won’t know when we can reopen fully until November makes things very difficult. Anyone who knows anything about theatre knows that will be months too late for us to plan for Christmas shows.”

In recent years the theatre industry has made efforts to tackle inequalities and to make sure the nation’s stages reflect society. But there are concerns the crisis will undo much of that good work.

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Mr Hastie said: “We’ve been making strides to make sure our stages represent our country as it looks and there is a real worry that the privileged few – people with private means – will now only be able to contemplate a life in the entertainment industry and that will be deeply damaging to our cultural lives.”

Mr Filloux-Bennett said redundancies were not planned at his venue and he believed it would not be put at risk, given its broad use as a community venue.

Mr Brining added: “We continue to plan creatively for the future. We want theatre to return ever stronger and to welcome back as many colleagues as possible.”