Entertainment, Interview, Manchester

How funding cuts affect the arts community and theatre audiences

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By Jack Wright


Government cuts to funding for the arts has been regularly instigated for a number of years now; the austerity measures put in place are rarely commented on as in depth research is essential to gather relevant figures in regards to the overall effects of cuts across the UK. Just looking at the Arts Council funding alone, grants to the arts in North West dropped by a staggering 43% between 2014 and 2016, and yet no real action appears to be taking place in reaction.

An employee of ATG – Opera House, Manchester, Chloe Jones, 35, showed her concern for the findings: “This disgusts me. How can the government justify cutting so much money.”

The Opera House Theatre’s income and business derives from touring companies renting their stage for varying amounts of time. Developed by theatre company Family First Entertainment, this year’s seasonal pantomime, Aladdin, is due to set up pitch for the next six weeks.

Grants for strategic touring – which is what supports theatre companies touring shows around the UK –have been cut by 92% in North West, with only £42,127 being invested since 2014.

Jones continued: “I don’t think people realize how much money goes into putting a show on the stage, but to think future generations won’t even get to experience theatre as we know it really upsets me.”

Within the UK, Wales has seemingly been hit the hardest by the government’s financial cutbacks. Popular for its Opera stage-adaptations, an average ticket to a Welsh theatre has risen by over 24%.

Pembrokeshire local authority (South Wales) concluded in 2011 that it could no longer fund the £80,000 annual subsidy for its Fishguard’s Theatr Gwaun, forcing it into immediate closure. This brought about the conception of Theatr Gwaun Community Trust – comprised of volunteers – which assisted the venue financially and allowed it to remain open to the public. As the council only grants £16,000 a year to the theatre, the trust group raises over £60,000 per annum to make up for the financial shortfall.

Classical vocal student, Tom Loughlin, 20, expressed his concern with the future of Welsh theatre: “For me, Wales is the hub for opera – it produces so many great opera stars and teachers. To hear that theatres are under threat really doesn’t sit right with me.”

“I love watching amateur performances in their intimate venues. It would be a real shame if young talent was no longer showcased due to funding cuts.”

Adding a further perspective to the affect of funding cuts to the arts and how it impacts the future members of the industry, I sat down with a student from The Arden School of Theatre: Macaulay Cooper, 23. The institute is a part of The Manchester College and therefore accepts student finance as a means of paying tuition fees – unlike numerous other theatre schools in the country who expect the payments upfront and well exceed the usual £9000 a year limit.

 

How aware of the theatre funding cuts are you?

I’m quite aware – I don’t know all the facts but I’m familiar with the basics. A lot of my friends are in the theatre scene and know a fair bit about it.

 

Have the financial cuts affected you personally?

Yeah, I auditioned for drama schools when I left college, and got accepted into one of the main ones in London Regents University. I got a place one the acting course. The fees were £14,000 a year which had to be paid directly to the school – student finance didn’t cover it because it’s not part of UCAS. And that sort of money was just totally out of my reach. The school mentioned bursaries that I could audition for – they said that the cuts to theatre meant there were very few scholarships going nowadays and they were really competitive. I didn’t get a bursary and couldn’t attend the school.

 

Have you ever been a part of a production that was self-funded?

When I was in high school, I was asked to join Trapdoor Theatre which is a theatre company that puts on educational plays and musicals that tour round other schools. It was based in North Wales and mainly featured teenagers in year 10 and 11. They plays were really good and it was such an invaluable experience as it was one of my first performance experiences outside my own school.

 

How difficult did you/the company find raising money?

The funding from the government was very limited. Each member contributed towards being a part of the productions – I think we paid like £5 every two weeks. Then we would all come together to make the costumes and set from bits we had lying around and a few things we could afford to buy. It was annoying having to always make everything yourself or constantly looking out for pieces of clothing that could be used for costumes. It always came together in the end, though.

 

What techniques did you use to gather funds for productions?

Besides the money we used to contribute, we held a few taster sessions at schools to try and raise awareness and possibly money. It usually proved quite successful. I also did a charity run to and got all my family members to sponsor me. Sometimes, when a school we visited really liked what we did, they would make a donation to the company which we used for the next piece.

 

Has the company always been self-funded? Or did the funding cuts cause them to become a self-funded entity?

When I was a part of the company, it was self-funded. The director did try to convince the council to support us but apparently the money just wasn’t there and they usually opted to fund other projects such as art workshops. I left the company when I started university; I recently spoke to the owner and she said the council awarded her funding for an educational piece about body image, a message which she said they were eager to get around schools. So I suppose they’re finally getting some recognition now.

 

Have you performed with other production companies that use funding from the government?

Last year, I auditioned and got into a production of Hamlet in Lancaster. It was with the Liontamers Theatre Company. They had already been accepted for funding and had investors interested in the production. Before they got the government funding, the company manager proposed the show idea to a few local investors and got three to sign up. We performed the show for nearly a month and the company and backers got profit back from the ticket sales.

 

How do you compare the process of the opposing companies?

Government funded companies obviously have an easier time raising money, but I feel like there’s a lot more pressure for the production to be a success. It was also far more strict when making purchases and a much more structured process than when I was a part of the self-funded company. Self funded companies have to make sure they have enough money and come up with other ways to make up for any shortfalls – but that’s on their back so they had more control with their money but less to spend on the show.


Even amongst all this negativity surrounding the future of theatre, the public are buying more tickets now than ever.

In 2014, more than 18 million tickets were sold which was up 2.4% from the preceding year and outside central London, box office takings rose by 8% from £396m to £428m.

David Brownlee told BBC’s Inside Out programme that the increased box office revenue was not only due to the higher prices theatres put in place, but rather because theatre goers were choosing to purchase more expensive seats.

The average cost of a theatre ticket outside central London rose by 5.5% since 2014 – bringing the price to £23.77. In London, they saw an increase of 5.1% with the average ticket setting consumers back £42.29.

As the average cost of a theatre ticket has risen significantly, it has been found that the people attending such performances are those of an older generation. In a survey carried out by Audience Agency, it was concluded that the average age of a theatre goer was 52. It was also stated that the largest age group buying tickets to the theatre were those between 65 and 74, who generally have a larger disposable income than younger people.

“Audiences were not being replenished with young people, who over the next decade could instead look to other art forms” – Audience Agency chief executive, Anne Torreggiani.

 

 

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