31 May 2020
There’s a reason our industry is called show business. Without the business, there’s no show. And the model that has developed to present mainstream theatre is very finely balanced. Some reasonable people are suggesting there must be a way of presenting socially distanced theatre. There is and it won’t work. Anyone who has put on a theatre show knows they’re playing a mug’s game, because it has always been enormously difficult to make theatre work financially. Twenty years ago, I put on OLEANNA by David Mamet at The Old Rep in Birmingham for two weeks. It only has one set and two actors, and as the boss, I was working for free, but it still cost twenty-eight thousand pounds. That doesn’t mean you have to take twenty-eight thousand pounds at the box office: once you’ve deducted VAT, commission, royalties and venue share from the total, you need to take fifty thousand pounds to break even. And that is involving adult price tickets. Once you get involved in children’s theatre, the problems are compounded by needing to provide genuinely affordable ticket prices, so you need literally thousands of people to come into the theatre each week to make even the smallest show viable. So social distancing is a non-starter. Unless you can pack out a theatre, you cannot hope to break even. And eventually you go bust. The reasonable people thinking theatre can change a business model that has been refined over hundreds of years have to think again.
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