This World Theatre Day, let’s call on the government to support the arts
Bonham-Carter is a Trustee of the Lowry Theatre. Credit: Alamy
The pandemic was catastrophic for the Theatre - a sector which relies so particularly on personal interaction. My own stark realisation of what was about to happen was on the 16th of March 2020 when the doors to Tom Stoppard’s Leopastaldt were closed in my face as I arrived - lockdown had begun.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns the cultural sector showed characteristic imagination and innovation and found new ways of collaborating and working with communities across the land - streaming performances and exhibitions.
The Lowry in Salford – of which I am a Trustee - created #LoveLowry to maintain a relationship with its local community. Now called Lowry Online – it has become permanent – a virtual theatre and studio online space for all ages.
And although what we all discovered was that online events are no replacement for the pleasure of actual shared experiences, across the country such initiatives meant we were not cut off from the creative world that sustains us. It actually resulted in a more diverse and inclusive reach that will hopefully continue post-Covid. It is essential that theatre and the arts reflect the 21st century UK – our vibrant, creative, multi-cultural country –while things are getting better, still so much potential is being excluded.
Another aspect lockdown exposed is the plight of freelancers. 72% of those who work in the Creative Industries fall into this category – compared with 16% across the rest of the economy - and most were unable to access the government’s generous support schemes.
The other day I heard the Secretary of State, Nadine Dorries talk with conviction, and passion, about levelling up and the use of the Arts as a tool to achieve this. She also called on the sector themselves to level up – to be more representative geographically and across all sectors of society. So, how about a Freelance Commissioner to ensure that resources are distributed more equally in future?
And, most importantly, for the Secretary of State’s ambition to be achieved, the government has to wake up to the fact that high quality, universal arts education is essential. Their failure to acknowledge this is reflected in a school curriculum that downgrades creative subjects - A-Level Performing Arts entries between 2010-2020 fell by 71%. The curriculum must be based on STEAM, not STEM and this must be reflected in the EBacc.
Furthermore, the current apprenticeship scheme, an initiative to be supported, has to be amended to reflect the needs of the creative sector.
Then there is Brexit. The free movement of people to work and travel across Europe, both facilitated, and fuelled, the exchange of culture, creativity and expertise and generated commercial and artistic opportunities. However, the fact is that the creative sector was dealt a No Deal Brexit and without this being rectified our theatre and music industries are facing big challenges.
We need a bespoke Visa Waiver Agreement with the EU, and bilateral agreements with Member States that do not offer cultural exemptions for work permits.
We are a creative isle, our arts, our culture enrich us all literally and metaphorically. Hugely successful industries spawned; soft power generated - a Great British Success Story. Supporting and protecting this vital, vibrant sector is of paramount importance to our economy, to our country’s sense of itself and to our place in the world.
March 27th is World Theatre Day – so lets pay tribute to a man of the performing arts from another country - President Zelensky - who in his bravura address to the House of Commons quoted Shakespeare: ‘We have to fight the helicopters, the rockets. The question for us now is to be or not to be…I can give you a definitive answer. It is yes to be’.
The power of the theatre crosses centuries, crosses nations – it speaks to us all.
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