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15 years of change for English Theatre

Our research into the English Theatre landscape is published
16.12.2016

Britain’s Got Bhangra – Rifco Arts, Image © David Fisher

In October, our research report into the current state of the English Theatre landscape, undertaken together with Graham Devlin Associates, was published.

This research was commissioned by Arts Council England at a time of major change - ongoing funding reductions, demographic and societal shifts, digital technology and social media - which are all having an impact on the theatre sector.

The purpose of the research was to develop a better understanding of this new landscape. In particular to look at the changes over the past 15 years, in terms of production, presentation and audiences, across the whole theatre sector (subsidised, unfunded not-for-profit, and commercial).

Some of our most interesting findings are:

  • A marketised sector suits some theatres better than others. The largest theatres are still generating by far the highest proportion of earned income, and being located in London has clear benefits - with a strong correlation identified between a London location and philanthropic and Arts Council income.
  • There is a strong relationship between Arts Council income and philanthropy. Rather than public sector funds ‘crowding out’ other types of investment, Arts Council funding positively affects organisations’ capacity to attract private giving revenues.
  • Receiving public funding is important to theatre organisations’ ability to invest in quality productions and to innovate. There were strong concerns expressed through our large-scale consultation that public funding reductions are limiting theatres’ capacity to take artistic risks.
  • A few major players have been among the world’s leaders in adopting and delivering Event Cinema, and have established theatre as the most poplar Event Cinema genre in revenue terms.
  • Aligned with the broader cultural sector, proximity and ease of access play an important role in attendance. London provides comparative ease of access to theatre. In contrast, representatives at several non-London industry roundtables highlighted issues such as distances to theatres and lack of public transport as negatively impacting theatre attendance.
  • In the face of ongoing challenges to address diversity (among the workforce, programming and audiences), some theatres are adopting a more ‘curatorial’ approach to programming. Here, the Artistic Director is changing from delivering a ‘personal’ artistic vision to acting more as a ‘curator’ of a diverse body of work. This better accommodates a range of different voices as part of programme making, lending itself to representing different audiences.
  • Socio-economic disadvantages are becoming an increasing concern in terms of workforce diversity. Diversity is being exacerbated by issues as low average pay, low-paid trainee positions, the growth in sector-specific postgraduate courses, and de-prioritisation of the arts in (state) education.
  • There’s an increasing awareness among theatres regarding their role in local communities. Can they achieve a cultural purpose within a broader set of civic responsibilities?

The full report (including an Executive Summary and 10-page Summary Report), as well as ACE’s response can be found here.

A response by Guardian theatre expert, Lyn Gardner is here.

- Bethany Lewis, Consultant