This October, tragically, London’s Royal Opera House has sought to auction a portrait of its former boss, Sir David Webster, painted by David Hockney himself!
This is in a bid to raise finance and balance the books following the lack of revenue during the pandemic, with the portrait estimating to bring in £18 million. Alex Beard, the current Chief Executive, described it as a “tough call” given that the portrait is the only real asset that stands out to raise the finance.
It seems the £1.57 billion support package from the Government to the arts sector has not proven to be enough to keep even the Royal Opera House afloat. Chief Executive of the Royal Albert Hall, Craig Hassell, described this funding as “an absolute life saver”. However, the Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, Adrian Vinken, said there is no security in the sector until it knows it can re-open without social distancing.
How Serious Is It?
Along with Adrian Vinken’s claims of insecurity, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber says the arts are at the “point of no return” following the damage of the pandemic. Theatres are not like cinemas in the way that they can open and show a movie instantly. Theatres take time to organise; with a production team working together and stage people performing. Without clarity, theatres cannot continue.
Rebecca Kane Burton, Chief Executive of the LW Theatres, further added that “we don’t want to open theatres… at 30% capacity”, describing recent months as “devastating and catastrophic” for the arts sector.
Without theatres re-opening, it is likely we will see “further redundancies and the permanent closure of more theatres” says actor Simon Callow. To put this seriousness in perspective, the Royal Albert Hall has “already taken £10 million worth of loans” says Lucy Noble, the artistic and commercial Director. However, it is worthy to note the recent announcement of the furlough scheme being extended until March 2021. This Governmental policy could in fact help to combat the redundancies forecast by Simon Callow, by subsidising firms’ wage levels in order to keep their employees – and integral part of theatre – on the payroll.
What Will Happen Next?
A production called “Sleepless” took place last month as the only indoor theatre show with a full cast since the outbreak of the pandemic. This was down to the spaciousness of the Wembley Troubadour Theatre allowing the socially distanced production to go on. One of the stars of the show, Kimberley Walsh, says “we’re very lucky that we’re in a modern space.”
The production had measures in place such as a one-way system; hand sanitising stations; increased ventilation; and a reduced capacity from 1,300 people down to 400. The orchestra were divided by screens between them; the backstage crew were socially distanced; and the stage cast were allowed contact due to rigorous testing between them.
Perhaps these are methods to be introduced into all theatres, in order to be deemed safe to give the go ahead. Albeit as Rebecca Kane Burton stated, they do not want to open to a mere 30% capacity. However, for the sake of the arts sector and finance, perhaps this is the only option. The majority do not want to end up in even more debt, nor sell off their valuable assets (like a David Hockney portrait).
What Can We Do?
With regards to the Royal Opera House in particular, their website has live steams and offers for a subscription in order to help the venue stay afloat, with radio and television broadcasts set to air too. The Royal Ballet Company is back on stage with social distancing rules in place, as well as the London Palladium holding events with implemented measures too.
It seems the extra measures of testing, as well as adhering to social distancing, will surely delay the return of the arts even further. The demand for these arts remains high, but they will not return to industry security without financial; moral; or attendance support from all of us. I feel that more awareness should be raised about the issues faced by the sector in order to avoid crossing the “point of no return”. Therefore I encourage everyone’s support in tuning in to online events, and attending performances where possible. An industry that we have all taken enjoyment from now depends on us – we do not want to see the sector diminish. Perhaps the gradual opening of these venues will be a lifeline to the arts sector. Let’s hope so!