How can Theatre dodge the credit crunch bullets? 

Session Convenor:      Ed Rashbrooke : [email protected]

Session included :       Derek Shiel, Di Sherlock, Roma Meah


As we sat on the green chairs in the hall, we started by thinking there was an easy answer to this question. A disgruntled answer, which was simply to run ‘Feelgood Factor’ Musicals in large theatres. These would be the most recession proof and would be the things that people would continue to visit in tough times.

It all felt somewhat unsatisfactory though, and something of a cop-out, if the only answer was to produce escapist fodder that was easy to digest. So we moved on to some other ideas.


So next we talked about productions which could subvert thinking. Productions which could challenge the status quo or the way that other media forms would produce their analysis. At its simplest, this could be comedy club skethes which still ticked the populism boxes, but could perhaps exert a more critical payload.

There was a problem here, too. The comedy club satire was generally pitched to people who were already insiders and would generally expect what was oin offer. Again this maintained the status quo, rather than delivering a ‘net new’ experience.


We examined ways to use modern theatre to drive new forms of critical thinking. A recent example was the ‘Zero’ play about hostage interrogation. An example of critical messaging. The challenge was that the audience was self-selecting cognoscenti with awareness of the issues being discussed. Whilst confirming opinions of this group, its didn’t really convert new people. Worthy theatre but perhaps preaching to the converted. The point of the question was to find ways beyond this to be able to drive new messages to people who may not have thought about topics in quite the way of the theatrical production before.


There was discussion of the filters affecting delivery of the message and the content of the message. For the delivery of the message, there are other channels such as television and the newspapers, which often have first access to narrative and opinions. In a difficult environment, Theatre has to somehow navigate past these beacons if it wishes to have an original voice. Time and constraints of reach can make this challenging.

Additionally, the message may also be manipulated. It can be difficult to say things which are counter to popular views. Intervention can come from sponsors, other funders and even within government- all of these groups can hold power which can impact a production and make finding a new voice difficult.


There can be limits imposed upon choice of language. Constraints of political correctness or other limits can dilute the nature f characters or sentiments being portrayed. This is far more about the unintended consequences of badly placed quotes (“The Daily Tale is outraged by quotation X in the production”). In tough times, there is a likelihood that the production will be de-risked and the edginess will be removed. There can be consequential censorship based upon a need for works to be safe rather than edgy.


Where to gather funding and support for Theatre in beleaguered times? Public Sector or Private Sector? Grants, Sponsorship or Patronage? Which sources remain active and where will there be cut-backs? 

For funding: The government approaches re-election. What will gain votes? Arts funding is not a big vote catcher compared with education and health. In addition, the 2012 Olympics is diverting major funding, including that of the Arts Council and ‘Arts’ and ‘Sports’ are becoming intertwined. There is a possibility that Sports will gain ascendancy over Arts in funding decisions. 

Sponsorship: Corporate sponsorship has helped and continues, although in tough times there is a risk of budgetary cut-backs.

Patronage: Borrow a thought from Mozart and tap into wealth. This could work for a few, but is unlikely to the answer for many. And if a patron asks for a different ending to a story, what are the options?

But we want to be Devoted

How on earth can we spin this situation positive? There are many contra-indicators suggesting tough times for theatre ahead. We seek inspiration.

Beyond the formulas of escapism, there have to be ways to develop a vision.

A serious performing arts vision to assist promote and support the relevant arts. Not a grand unifying theory, but some statements about ways that theatre as a living, breathing and relevant art form can permeate the way that things get done.

What could such a manifesto look like? Why could it be good for Theatre arts in general? Are there precedents? How have they been successful?

Develop a Plan

These questions of ensuring a relevance should be examined as a part of Arts Council and similar planning cycles.

The costs for developing and supporting thriving arts are far less substantial than the funds being poured into financial, housing and retail troubles.

The payback is significant. Britain still holds a major global position for its arts and creative endeavours and significant numbers are kept employed in the sector, supporting and promoting this field. 

Be Counted

Getting this right can drive positivity in a period of flagging economics; getting it right can boost a sector that can influence the mindset of the nation.

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