Chichester Festival Theatre boss warns some theatres might never reopen

Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans is in no doubt: theatres will go under in the autumn unless the government steps in to help.

Monday, 22nd June 2020, 7:33 am
Updated Monday, 22nd June 2020, 8:10 am
Daniel Evans, Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Tobias Key

For the moment, on the back of good housekeeping and success over the years, the CFT is secure. But Daniel warned: “We are not going to be able to survive forever if the government doesn’t have a plan for the industry.”

It’s a message he and his colleagues in the business have been trying to get through to the highest levels.

“I have spent a lot of time lobbying and talking to the bodies that are helping us talk to the government to make sure that the message is getting through to government at cabinet level, that we are going to need some help.

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“We have been trying to make the argument in a way that they understand financially what we do.”

Daniel’s point is that Chichester Festival Theatre has a massive £23 million impact on the economy a year, which means that for every pound the Arts Council invests in the CFT, the CFT gives back four to the local economy.

Part of the wider picture is that the West End sells nearly a million more tickets annually than does Broadway: “We were growing massively. The creative industry was the fastest growing industry. We were growing at twice the rate that the economy was growing.

“We hope that the government will be receptive.”

But Daniel stresses time is ticking away: “We have seen the theatre (the Nuffield) in Southampton going into administration, and we see that so many theatres are talking about mass redundancies. We are lucky that we are not yet at that position because of our good housekeeping.

“But we are not going to be able to survive forever if the government doesn’t have a plan for the industry, and I would say that we need to hear something from them within the next two months. There are colleagues at other theatres that know that in the autumn they will be going under if something doesn’t happen.”

Daniel talks of a theatre ecology – and of the wonderful things which emerge. He cites Sam Mendes, who cut his teeth in Chichester in the tent which preceded the Minerva and has gone on to become an Oscar winner and direct Bond.

“And he came out of British theatre. I loved what he said the other day in an interview, that we know that the arts are not going to save lives and we thank the NHS for doing that; but the arts are what makes it worth staying alive.”

The arts are going to need a government response soon.

“All our theatres are pieces of the whole. We are all interconnected, and the whole sector needs help. We are not delineating between the commercial sector and the subsidised sector.

“One of the things that the Arts Council has asked us is to become financially more and more resilient. We are now only 12 per cent reliant on the Arts Council. 88 per cent we raise through the box office and bar sales and so on.

“But we are not asking for a bail out. We are asking for an investment to keep us going – an investment that we will pay back time and time again.

“But it is not just the economic argument. It is about what we do for the community. You think of all the vulnerable people that we work with throughout the year, the mental health units, the older people living with dementia. We are talking about well-being and that is not quantifiable.”

In the meantime, the remaining CFT staff remain in good heart, Daniel says: “Most people are furloughed. We are down to a very small staff, just over 20 of us, and lots of people are picking up other people’s work, but we are keeping in touch and people are managing to keep in good spirits.”

But as he says, there is still a sense of isolation, and with time, that sense of isolation accumulates…

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