““The industry is having to take safer and safer decisions – and audiences are taking safer and safer decisions too”

The title of this post is a quote by Max Stafford-Clark, renowned director and founder of Out Of Joint theatre company. I urge you all to read the interview he did with The Guardian, please take time to read it all as it’s a very humbling look at the state of theatre from one of theatre’s most well known directors. Click here for the article. The comments section makes an interesting read too – a couple of conflicting opinions but I have to say they were all making good points last time I checked!

I won’t do a reproduction of the article as I really would like people to read it, however I will say it makes an interesting read not just because it’s Max Stafford-Clark commenting but because it brings up a lot of questions about the viability of touring theatre in today’s economy for any theatre maker. It also brings up the question of how important Arts Council funding is, however I think a more important issue is the cost of hiring a theatre space – something Stafford-Clark complains about.

Theatre hire costs are a very real problem for all theatre makers at the moment – I know how hard it is to break even, let alone make a profit on a show when you’ve had to subtract hundreds – sometimes thousands – of pounds in hire costs (which is just a basic hire, no tech included) before you’ve even started. So with this in mind it is interesting that such a major company as Out Of Joint is speaking out about having exactly the same problem as a tiny fringe theatre company.

However, I think it ultimately (and always does) boil down to dwindling audience numbers. Hire costs usually assume a good audience in order to cover the nightly/weekly/monthly hire which just isnt possible for theatre companies to achieve despite their best efforts. The quote in the title of this piece says it all – nobody wants to take a risk anymore, particularly on new writing. And because of low audience numbers and soaring hire costs theatre companies are often not in a financial position to offer super low ticket prices – you see nothing for under £10 on the London Fringe scene these days, compared to about 5 years ago or so when £7-8 could buy you a ticket for a piece of fringe theatre.

So where do we go from here? There seems to be an unfortunate cycle of high costs, high prices, low audience numbers which just seems to go round in a circle. Where does the buck stop? Who needs to make the first move? As always, I’m very interested to hear your thoughts!

 

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