‘A culture bursary for every child’: A post-recovery wishlist from the London theatre world

Bringing our city to your living room After months of waiting, theatres around the country finally received grants from the Government’s arts recovery package this week. For many institutions, who have been unable to welcome audiences since March, it was hailed as a relief. But arts figures were also clear […]

After months of waiting, theatres around the country finally received grants from the Government’s arts recovery package this week.

For many institutions, who have been unable to welcome audiences since March, it was hailed as a relief. But arts figures were also clear that it marks a small step on a much longer road to recovery.

The crisis may be far from over, but this week’s lifeline is a reminder that the fight for the industry’s future isn’t either – and many want to use this as an opportunity to rebuild it anew. What could theatre look like in a post-recovery world? We asked leading London theatre figures for their one blue sky wish.


Rufus Norris, Artistic Director, National Theatre

(PA)

I’d like to see every child in the country have the chance to get on their feet and participate in active storytelling. One of the encouraging trends of the last few years is observing the increasing activism in young people around matters of global significance – the climate debate, Black Lives Matter, and most recently their own futures with exam results. To use our craft in self-expression to build confidence and skill in every young person, all over the UK, would be a profound act of levelling up. If it really does take a village to raise a child, I’d love us to add our names to the rota.

Andrew Lloyd Webber

(Getty Images)

It is vital that theatres take their place at the heart of the community by being as open and welcoming as possible. Also theatres need to become as flexible in their configuration as they can. The Gillian Lynne was designed by Sean Kenny so that it can play in the round as well as being a conventional proscenium theatre.

My complete reconstruction of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane will mean it too can play in the round. I am lucky that the Lane has fantastic front of house space. Therefore it can open up during the day and play a part in the Covent Garden community in a way that most West End theatres can’t.

But going forward all theatres need to be as open and inviting with their spaces as adaptable as possible.

Michelle Terry, Artistic Director, Shakespeare’s Globe

(Sarah Lee)

I wish for our theatres to be given and to own their place as the town hall, the heart of a local community, the centre of public and civic life and become truly a place for all. I wish for us to talk about audiences as participants rather than consumers and recognise the power of this dialogue in which we host, enable and celebrate multiple points of view and multiple truths. I wish for theatre and for artists to be recognised, valued and invested in as a necessary and vital cog in the wheel of our country’s mental health and wellbeing and as we find our way through this psychological, economic and ecologic crisis, we acknowledge the 24/7 role that art, artists, stories, culture and entertainment play in providing time in, time out, time away and time together, which is crucial for the health as well as the wealth of our country. I wish for kids to go to the theatre for free because our imagination is the most powerful and progressive force for good. I wish for us all to read White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo so we don’t waste time questioning whether we live within inherently oppressive structures and just crack on with dismantling them so that all people and all voices are empowered to make a positive contribution to the stories that we tell and the ways that we tell them as we all learn how to adapt and live in this ever-changing world. I wish…

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director, Young Vic

(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

Maybe what I’d most want on the other side of this portal is a changing of the rules. That’s so easy, possibly even irresponsible, to say without suggesting what that looks like. So I’m going to start with reevaluating what we mean by success. At the moment we have a 19th-century model and criteria. Create a show – get five stars – transfer it to the commercial sector – take it on tour. Said work then sits in limbo until the next generation revives it with a new twist or a TV star. Then it starts again. But surely, in the age of disruption and the digital attention economy, without resorting exclusively to theatre on our cell phones, we can reimagine how we perform and distribute globally in real-time to the largest possible audience? In short, my wish would be for theatre to dream in the 21st century, and – whatever iteration of capitalism arrives on the flip side of Covid – for it to catch up with us.

Rupert Goold, Artistic Director, Almeida Theatre

(Matt Writtle)

Theatre is too expensive for too many people. Arts provision in schools is diminishing by the year. I’d like to see every child in the country receive a culture bursary when they turn 18, say £100 valid for up to 7 years redeemable at any National Portfolio Organisation (NPO), but on the condition the NPOs committed to ongoing discounts for young audiences so people would get maximum value from the bursary. It would cost the taxpayer about £80m but would radically change audiences and the repertoire.

I’d also like to see theatres used as polling stations. It would make more people discover they were there and if theatres aren’t places to change the direction of society then what are they for?

Michael Buffong, Artistic Director, Talawa Theatre Company

(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

My wish would be that Black work and creativity must be central to the rebuilding of theatre. That requires institutions and the people who lead them to make the culture shift consciously. I’d like to see more Black stories, perspectives and decision-making at the heart of the post-pandemic reset so that theatres and the work they produce can better reflect the communities they serve. Let’s also celebrate the humanity, the love and the joy of Black British theatre makers and make sure that the widest possible audience has access to the collective magic which theatre can offer.

Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director, Battersea Arts Centre

(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

I believe art is a public good – vital to society and something we should all have a universal right to, as audience members, as participants or as co-creatives. I want everyone to have access to arts and creativity, whatever their financial circumstances or ability to pay.

Ticket income for theatres has collapsed overnight. We’ve had to adapt. So what if we learned to live in this new reality and adjust our business models accordingly? What if everything produced by subsidised theatre was either free or ‘pay what you decide’?

I think things would transform overnight – arts and culture would absolutely belong to everyone, and not be something for the privileged or select few. The changes this might bring to how we work would be far reaching, radical and deep. Heresy perhaps. But living the unthinkable is the unique opportunity of these times.

Rachel O’Riordan, Artistic Director, Lyric Hammersmith

(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

I want the Lyric to play our part in bringing people back together. We have a long history in Hammersmith – we have deep roots and strong branches. We have a brilliant, diverse community here that we are honoured to serve. We know how important we are to our community and they are everything to us – for 125 years, we have been a civic resource and artistic leader. We are here for Hammersmith, and this theatre is the place we can collectively and joyfully think, play, create and provoke. My wish is that theatre becomes more vital to everyone – we need to collectively challenge, question and celebrate our society more than ever now. Finding new ways to engage with our audiences is vital and exciting. I want the Lyric to be at the heart of our community and a place where everyone feels at home.

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