What will theatres of the future look like? In a time of economic uncertainty and when there seems to be continual government budget cuts with the public supporting its funding cuts to the arts (The Stage 30 June 2016) does the future look bleak? Or is it a Doctor Who opportunity, time to regenerate our theatres and venues.
Some venues are becoming multipurpose with their wide variety of uses and more productions are being accommodated with fewer restrictions. But there are still many venues that have not made this transition whether it is due to funding or tradition. So have the 1900 year tradition where the audience sits in rows looking at the proscenium arch become outdated or just restricting for users and writers? So is it possible the arch only has repercussions on income as only a certain type of production can play to a restricted interest audience.
A new question arises, “Will funding cuts really ruin the arts financially or are the arts bringing it on themselves?” Am I saying we should do away with tradition of an arch? Of course not, but remind ourselves that modern day imagination sees beyond a picture frame style of theatre.
In 2010 the Guardian published an article about theatres being high contributors to the carbon footprints and two years later the Arts Council of England introduced an element into its criteria to encourage the arts to examine their impact on the environment, with the same organisation introducing diversity into the criteria in 2010. It almost seems like ACE either are not keen to give out funding or is it just they can see beyond tradition.
While there is enough acknowledgement that cuts in funding will continue in the currently climate, there are a lot of people in the industry who are digging their heals in demanding that funding improves, which won’t do any good as when the money has finally gone it won’t be able to just reappear.
Organisations like The New Art Exchange Gallery in Nottingham that heavily rely on funding as they only generates 18% of its income are going to be the worst hit. By contrast and an excellent example to the Arts Industry is the Leicester Curve, a building project that overran its schedule and was well over budget, but now has become a money maker cutting it’s dependency on funding from 33% to 25% with a program that continually looks at ways to become financially better off (ITV News 20 July 2016) and they have an arch, but it’s not the only space.
No money has ever been guaranteed as any funding body could collapse or have its own funding cut at any time. Regional’s need to open up by looking out for new ways of being funded this may include going down the commercial line and have local business support, there is always opportunity to help each other in a partnership. But more than that looking at how they spend the money given through funding, what costs could be cut and I don’t mean making staff redundant. But the fact is funding criteria’s are going to get tougher, having to show budget and proving some sort of percentage to self-funding will always be on the cards.
Creating a new diversity of use to a space opens the door to new opportunities which have a high chance of leading to more income. Just imagine what would happen if a venue redeveloped its main auditoria that just has a proscenium arch format into a format where the incoming company had a choice of either an arch, being in the round or a bit of both and still have the same number in their audience. I know there are venues that currently have studios on the side, but these are often smaller then the main auditorium, and not every venue can afford or get the permission to build studios.
If a venue is being redeveloped why not make it far more environmentally friendly, while the cost of installing systems which have a lower impact on the environment can be high, this is usually accompanied by high long term savings. There are money making schemes, for example what if a venue had solar panels it would reduce spending on electricity during the season and during the dark period its feeding electricity back into the National Grid.
There are theatres that taking in conferences and weddings which is a wonderful way to utilise their spaces. But there are also theatres that are possibly too picky on what they accept, even when the production offers to do a profit share. So as a producer when you encounter this response you understand further why we have a public that supports funding cuts to the arts, it looks like the industry just wants free hand outs year on year.
Most theatres plan their seasons months in advance, if it was done on a week to week bases there would never be an audience. So why are we planning theatre funding that way? Do we need to stop thinking about a theatre for tomorrow and start thinking of the imagination of the new works of the future?