This week I wanted to share with you my letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden which formed The Kings submission to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Task Force for re-starting the theatre industry. We’ve watched with a sense of dismay as the narrative for the entire UK theatre industry has been predicated on a small number of West End Theatres and wanted to be a voice for regional theatres like us who want to open our doors as soon as we can and begin to provide the entertainment we are all craving.
Dear Mr Dowden
I am not a man driven to communicate with politicians but the way in which regional theatre is being ignored is both distressing and astonishing in equal measure. It seems to me that a few theatre owners in the West End have the ear of the government and when they say they are mothballing for a year the government then move on and ignore the rest of the industry. Today’s news tells us that pubs, cinemas and museums will be reopening BUT not a single word about regional theatre!!
As CEO of the Kings Theatre in Portsmouth I appeal to you to consider all aspects of theatre in the UK. The local arts and regional theatre is being destroyed by the crisis and we need to be able to open in a controlled manner to remain financially independent, contribute to the local economy, and retain talented staff. We have also a positive role in the mental health of the community providing entertainment, community and educational activities and stimulation.
The DCMS narrative is too focused on the West End and a few very wealthy impresarios. Regional theatre is a very different beast and they are not comparable in the support and actions we need.
My theatre largely operates on the Box Office takings, and we are successful. Furthermore, all our ticket money is ring-fenced so every audience member has been able to have a refund.
With no income since March we can only survive if we can open by November and produce our Pantomime. Leave aside the need for this to enable us to survive, the 40,000 odd people who year on year attend our panto need to have this event. We play a huge part in the cultural well-being of Portsmouth and the surrounding area and it would be a crime if we were allowed to die simply because focus is on a few and not on the many.
We have worked out if we scale down the production, allow for social distancing which reduces the house to c.400 per performance and reduce the ticket price to £20 we will enter 2021 in the black. The people of Portsmouth are supporting us and ticket sales are buoyant. We have been very public about the safety measures we are putting in place and our audiences and staff trust us to keep them safe. All tickets are sold with a guarantee that money will be refunded in full if we are prevented from opening.
The other aspect of regional theatre is that it depends on the weekly tours and one night shows. All the time there is no road map to re-opening the producers, promotors and artists who provide the rich and varied programmes will not survive.
There is not enough money to financially support a bail out of all the local theatres, producers, promotors and artists in the country. Let us get back to work so we can earn money, keep people on the pay roll and stimulate local business around us. Give us the guidelines that we need to work under and we will do it.
PLEASE ACT TODAY AS A MATTER OF EXTREME URGENCY AND ANNOUNCE THAT ALONG WITH CINEMAS, THEATRES CAN RE-OPEN.
Paul Woolf, CEO Kings Theatre Trust Ltd
This was sent on Monday 22 June and we will keep you all updated as to any replies we get. If you feel as passionate about this as I do can I ask you please to mail your local MP and make a noise too. The more we can encourage the debate the better.
In the meantime, as always, stay safe and we look forward to welcoming you back to The Kings very soon.
With All Best Wishes
CEO Kings Theatre
For the latest government advice and information, please click here.