Chichester Festival Theatre: hope soars "but the devil is in the detail"

Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans says “the hope-ometer has shot up” after the announcement of the government’s emergency funding for the arts.

Monday, 6th July 2020, 1:55 pm
Updated Monday, 6th July 2020, 1:56 pm
Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans
Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans

Daniel stresses the need for caution: and he points out that the full details haven’t yet emerged.

But the news comes as a huge boost to a beleaguered sector which was inching towards mass redundancies and closures.

At the weekend, the government unveiled a £1.57bn support package to help protect the future of UK theatres, galleries, museums and other cultural venues. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the aim was to preserve the "crown jewels" in the UK's arts sector as well as local venues.

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“It is definitely heartening,” Daniel said. “The devil is in the detail, but definitely when this was announced there was a huge mixture of relief. Time was going by, and definitely the jeopardy was increasing, so there is definitely a lot of gratitude in the industry today.

“We as a sector have been making our voices heard at the highest levels and to government, and the government has listened. And this one-off investment package is quite unprecedented.

“A fortnight ago there were murmurings that something was coming and then nothing was happening. And then there was an article in The Sunday Times saying a lot of arts organisations are going to have to be mothballed, so in the morning there was a real sense of depression… and then in the evening a real sense of elation.

“But there is definitely a degree of caution. The detail remains to work worked out. There are going to be a series of bodies set up to disseminate the money, and how soon it will happen is unknown. But it is the crucial question because speed really is of the essence.

“Some of my colleagues around the country are in organisations where the jeopardy is already really high. They really need the money urgently. We are not yet in that position at the CFT because of our model and because of good housekeeping. But there will come a time when we get to that place, and there is still a body that needs to be formed (for the distribution of the money). It has got to happen very quickly.”

Daniel said the sheer diversity of the industry was certainly a complicating factor: you have got everything from the small independent venues to the subsidised venues: “And even within those subsidised venues, there is a huge level of diversity. At the CFT 12 per cent comes from the government while for others it is more like 40 per cent.

“So I understand how complex it all is. But it needs to happen fast. I am really hoping that within a week some decisions will start to be rolled out. But I know from some of my colleagues up and down the country that time is of the essence.

“What we are definitely needing is a meaningful timetable. Without dates it is meaningless – though I do understand the public health complexity of our industry.

“But we are desperate to open again and we feel we can make our theatre safe to reopen and we know from a lot of our contacts that people are really keen to come back.”

In the meantime, Daniel labels it “bewildering” that people can sit tightly packed for hours in a sealed container in the sky: “Planes are surely like Petri dishes in the sky while we know since our renewal that we have got great ventilation in our theatre that we can really control. “But you are also looking at what was happening with the scenes from Soho on Saturday night, people really up close and shouting and laughing and breathing all over each other…

“And also you see the Prime Minister and the Chancellor encouraging people. We do need to start opening up the economy, but when you see that kind of activity being encouraged, you think why are these other sectors getting preferential treatment.”

The false thinking, Daniel feels, is based on a mistaken view of who goes to the theatre: it is not just older people: “There is this caricature that we just play to a certain type of person, and we don’t.”

So yes, there are still reservations despite the funding package: “But it is still great news, and the hope-ometer has now really shot up!”

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