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Sonia Friedman Productions, National Theatre Join Arts Institutions Seeking Government Relief from COVID-19 Impact

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Sonia Friedman Productions, National Theatre Join Arts Institutions Seeking Government Relief from COVID-19 Impact

The National Theatre and Sonia Friedman Productions are joining a number of other UK arts organizations calling for government intervention to rescue the industry which Friedman describes as "on the brink of total collapse."

According to Friedman, the producer behind The Book of Mormon on the West End and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the performing arts faces "the real possibility of complete obliteration" without significant government intervention.

She writes, "Without an urgent government rescue package, 70% of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year," she wrote. "More than 1,000 theatres around the country will be insolvent and might shut down for good."

She classifies potential losses as "irrecoverable" and predicts that within a period of six months "our arts and cultural organisations will have to spend their reserves until there is nothing left" and warns that problems will not end with the lifting of lockdown measures as "theatre is incompatible with social distancing" both in practice and consumption.

In the past 10 weeks, Friedman's company has shut down and suspended more than 18 productions around the world. The producer estimates that the shutdown has cost the UK theatre industry an estimated £330m.

Friedman is just one of many UK arts organizations calling for aid. This week the London National Theatre also called for "urgent government support for the theatre sector including the NT to mitigate the loss of vital talent and infrastructure", as it faces a "substantial level of staff redundancy" which could result in a loss of up to 30% of its workforce.

NT joint chief executives Rufus Norris and Lisa Burger said in a statement, "Having undertaken extensive financial modelling, we have sadly reached the conclusion that there will need to be a substantial level of staff redundancy at The National Theatre. Over half our annual expenditure is on people, and while in the short term we have used our limited cash reserves and support from the UK government's job retention scheme, a significant financial gap remains."

The continue, "We are calling for additional urgent government support for the theatre sector including the NT to mitigate the loss of vital talent and infrastructure. However, we must also plan proactively ourselves to protect the future of The National Theatre as an organisation and a major creative employer. It's our duty to ensure The National Theatre remains a vital part of the UK's lifeblood for many years to come."

Earlier this week, it was reported that Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is facing closure due to the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on its finances.

"Without emergency funding and the continuation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we will spend down our reserves and become insolvent," Shakespeare's Globe said in evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Now the committee is calling on Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to provide relief to UK arts institutions, stating, "The Government needs to step up for cultural institutions. Additional financial support needs to be provided to individuals and institutions in the creative industries that are unsuccessful or ineligible for Arts Council England (ACE) funding."

DCMS also submitted evidence from The Donmar Warehouse and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group pointing to the severity of the situation for the UK arts sector.

Donmar echoed similar sentiments to The Globe, staring, "Unless we now cancel a forthcoming and essential capital project, we will have no funds to transition our model to a more sustainable one, create artistically adventurous work with inherent risk, cashflow the business or cushion the effects of any further crisis or downturn."

They continue, "The cancellation/delay of the project means there is a high likelihood of equipment failure in the near future and will put the business continuity of the theatre at risk, even if we survive the COVID-19 emergency."

In addition to public donations, Donmar asks that the government extend its job retention program for the arts and entertainment sector until venues can legally resume and play to 100% of their normal capacity.

The Globe, which notably offers affordable pricing and free tickets to students, has proposed that "the government purchases in advance up to 20 per cent of Globe tickets for the next five years for disbursement to groups experiencing barriers to engagement would improve cash-flow." The venue says that a new survival-based business model would compromise its ability to continue to offer the affordable seating.

The Really Useful Group is also posting alarming losses of "£6.15 million lost in box office sales each week... and a £240,000 loss in average weekly earnings for RUG."

RUG's prediction for the future is a bleak one should the government not intervene, stating that the fallout from the pandemic "may result in the theatres themselves (both West End and regional theatres) having to endure increased dark periods without any programming...and in some cases the possibility of theatres closing permanently or being sold for alternative uses."

DCMS agrees, adding, "The Theatres Trust anticipates the closure of a significant proportion of theatres and a lasting impact on the UK's position as a world leader in the sector."

Really Useful Group recommends protocols being used in other markets to jump start the arts sector safely including front of house training on temperature scanning technology, making masks mandatory within the venues, and backing testing and tracking efforts.


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