This article is written by Ashley Curtis, brand journalist, on behalf of Stagecoach Theatre Arts School.
You’d be forgiven for thinking regional theatre is at the brink of being swallowed whole due to more and more funding cuts. Ask any play director in the UK; there is no doubt a measure of sadness at the level of finance in the industry. Nevertheless directors, actors and audiences continue to immerse themselves in challenging, provoking and entertaining events and, while perhaps theatre is not healthy in terms of funding, it is thriving artistically.
Can the theatre survive on just the arts, though? Have the cuts had a tangible impact on what we see on stage?
An inside look
Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director at Royal Shakespeare Company, concedes it has been a very tough year for theatre. In some ways though, this may have contributed to some of the industry’s biggest successes.
“Austere times can sometimes put a fire in one’s belly and I think that’s happened,” she admitted. “There are some great new voices coming through… at the same time, it’s been a very tough year.”
In this instance, funding cuts may have benefited what we see, as an audience, on stage. Daniel Evans, Sheffield Theatres artistic director, now has to examine just how many new plays Sheffield Theatres can do a year – from the safe bets to the riskier packages.
He said: “We want to continues doing experimental work – but at the same time we have to look at how we programme the larger spaces.”
On the other side of the coin, some artistic directors are adamant that funding cuts have not made a solitary bit of difference to their shows. It may have had an impact on programming but Greg Hersov, joint artistic director of the Manchester Royal Exchange, is resolute that funds haven’t hit the stage shows.
“…If we can’t quite generate enough box office income it will probably affect your programme choices at some point, but our attitude is always to make the most exciting, vivid work,” he said.
Artistically, regional theatres may be in rude health – as we can tell from Whyman, Evans and Hersov – but funds are still needed to keep theatres alive. It has got to a point where high-profile directors are looking to intervene.
Last year, Danny Boyle and Olympic Opening Ceremony collaborator Stephen Daldry requested a meeting with David Cameron in order to make the case for regional theatres and the essential funding they need to stay open. He believed the return the country gets from theatres is “incalculable” and regional theatres can sustain local communities and economies.
One year on from the request, regional arts seem to be doing well. Audiences are attending local theatres in their thousands and some artistic directors have noticed considerable growth in ambition and willingness to risk-take on major stages outside London. Stagecoach, one the original and largest performing arts schools for 4-18 year olds, continues to steamroller across schools nationwide and with the integration of wider communities to theatres, the state of regional theatre looks to be safe.
Of course, increased funding is always welcome from a venue perspective. But has it made the shows we see on stage more ‘safe’? Not a chance.