The UK education system is based heavily around academic subjects. Whether it’s the importance of maths or the value of a scientific experiment, these are deemed more relevant and worthy of attention than art, drama and music. This situation is perfectly fine for those who shine in the academic field. Their work is valued, giving them the best chances in the future. For those who don’t shine in the academic world, the situation isn’t so great. They may be able to play grade 8 piano or recite all of Shakespeare masterfully, but to the educational establishment, their work is deemed inferior.
Thank goodness, then, for theatres. They, along with other arts institutions – museums, concert halls, art galleries – provide a space where individuals from a more vocational area can shine. These people have had the opportunity to craft their talents over months and years before receiving appreciation from an audience, all set for an evening of enjoyment and wonder. For both West End theatres and small local theatres, they provided a hub of unity for a shared evening of wonder.
This could be truly disastrous for the theatre industry
However, theatres have been just as affected by the coronavirus pandemic as other institutions. Warwick Arts Centre, along with all theatres, has shut during the UK lockdown to prevent large gatherings and reduce the spread of the virus. While museums and art galleries already have free public entry, theatres will be severely damaged by the lockdown. They are dependent on ticket success to remain financially secure. Some performances may have been rescheduled but the majority of customers will require refunds. This could be truly disastrous for the theatre industry.
As playwright James Graham has argued, theatres need a ‘bailout’. Given they rely on ticket sales for paying staff and operating, they are clearly going to suffer. The government has prohibited both theatre companies from operating and individuals from attending the gatherings. Considering that this is the case, why shouldn’t the government assist theatres after this unforeseeable decline?
There are plenty of reasons why theatres and other cultural institutions deserve continued support. On a purely practical level, they are fantastic for the economy. Across the UK and globe, millions are raised through performances. Think of all the West End productions that have remained the same for decades: Wicked, The Mousetrap, The Lion King. In terms of tourism, the West End brings hundreds of thousands to the UK, wishing to see the finest performances. They are a rich hub for uniting people together in wonder at the quality of performance and style within a company.
The best art has the ability to transcend generations
The best art has the ability to transcend generations. Just look at how Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has maintained a continuous run for over 26,000 performances since the 1950s. Theatres provide individuals with the opportunity to learn about and celebrate social history. It is through a fictional performance that often the greatest facts about a location can be understood.
Individuals have revealed their appreciation for the theatre from the comfort of their homes. The National Theatre has started streaming a recorded play every Thursday evening, on YouTube. This has allowed families to watch plays such as One Man, Two Guvnors and Jane Eyre from the comfort of their homes. With the opportunity to donate money for support, the National Theatre have put themselves on the front foot for ensuring extra funds. These joyous, emotional plays have connected communities and allowed a shared appreciation for what the arts offers. People enjoy their escapism, a chance to unwind from the worries and stresses that come with daily life. Whether this is through theatre or film, radio or a particular hobby, engaging with something outside of their work makes the return to work far easier.
Even West End theatres may be at risk
For the arts to prosper in the future, government funding won’t be enough. It will be, at best, a temporary sum designed presumably for smaller theatres to mitigate lost ticket sales. Even West End theatres may be at risk given the heavy production costs of promoting a play that is suddenly cancelled. But people have to still be inspired to visit theatres: given the high ticket sales, it can easily appear off-putting. Those of us who love culture and what theatre provides have to make the case to others – it is about escapism and exploration in equal measure. Theatre can unite cultures and human beings in wonder and amazement as we have shared emotions towards a specific issue. Above all, it’s through the creation and writing process of something fictional that the most realistic stories are uncovered. For exposing injustice, the truth and acting as a catalyst for change, the existence and institutional survival of theatre has never been more important.