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British Stage Sector Appeals to Government to Stop Theaters Going Dark for Good

An empty black cab on Shaftesbury
Guilhem Baker/LNP/Shutterstock

Two bodies representing the British stage sector have submitted proposals to the U.K. government designed to safeguard its future. The move comes as the Bectu union warned that nearly 30 theaters and other venues were considering making redundancies.

The Society of London Theatre and U.K. Theatre said that the sector employs 290,000 workers, but the majority of those jobs are at risk, because of the shutdown of venues in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the increased costs that they will face when they reopen. They claimed that 70% of theaters will run out of cash by the end of the year.

Among their proposals, they asked the government to:

• Extend the job retention scheme to October for the theater industry, fully funded by the government.

• Establish a program to support all freelancers, many of whom have been unable to claim through the existing Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, and have been relying on theatrical charities for emergency relief.

• Amend the Theater Tax Relief, which already encourages investment in theater productions, to aid the recovery of the sector.

• Help theaters secure insurance to mitigate risk and limit their liability – only 12% of surveyed organizations believe they will be able to get the insurance they need to re-open.

• Support the thousands of small companies that contribute to theater productions, from set and costume makers to workshops to casting directors as well as technological suppliers.

• Help theaters to create Covid-19 secure venues, which will require investing in health and safety precautions like PPE, toilet facility changes and increased costs of working.

• Set up an Emergency Rescue Fund that works across the whole sector.

• Establish a Cultural Investment Participation Scheme as many charities are unable to take out loans and existing loan structures more broadly are not fit for the sector; this alternative scheme would allow both charitable and commercial organizations to re-establish, and enable the government to invest in the sector.

• Assist local authorities who support local theater, as any reduction in leisure budgets will lead to more pressure on regional theaters.

On Friday, Bectu – which represents many workers in the sector – said that nearly 30 theaters and other venues had warned they are considering redundancy proceedings.

Bectu’s members working in theaters owned by Nimax, Delfont Mackintosh and Cameron Mackintosh have been warned that they are looking at their staffing costs and structures.

Other organizations looking to shed staff include the National Theatre, Haymarket Leicester, Southport Theatre, Edinburgh Royal Lyceum, and cinema and arts venue Watershed Bristol.

Thousands of Bectu members are furloughed and these notices effectively mean that employers are preparing to lose staff as they prepare for changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and prolonged closures.

The U.K. Chancellor is widely expected to announce that from August the Treasury will only pay 60% of workers’ salaries and employers will need to contribute 20% to have access to the scheme.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “The theater industry is facing an unprecedented crisis and employers are doing everything they can to weather the storm they are experiencing.”

“The number of organizations telling us they intend to start redundancies proceedings, if they haven’t done so already, is hugely indicative of the scale of the crisis the industry is facing.”