Life In Suspension – A Collaboration Invite (Zoom chat)
We received loads of amazing submissions from so many people and Hugh Malyon and his associate artists are devising interesting ways of framing the second film: a community documentary on COVID-19, the lockdown and unique ways the community has subverted the pandemic. They are now organising a virtual open table via Zoom to get people’s own interpretations of some of the submissions.
The Zoom chat will be on 27 July. It will be captured and footage will be used in the final #LifeInSuspension film. Therefore, by signing up to this event you agree to your voice and or image being used in this way. Your name will also be put in the credits. The conversation will be structured to a degree, and some of the moments from the chat will be interweaved with the other submissions to create our collaborative documentary.
This chat will give you the opportunity to share your thoughts or just chat with artists about what responses might represent in the concept of lockdown and recent easing. All ideas/opinions/thoughts/questions/answers are appreciated. We’re excited to see what you come up with!
Of course any recordings that you are not comfortable with will not be used. Just let us know.
Are we heading in the right direction? The decisions theatres make now will define our relationships with the communities we serve
The decisions theatres take now about the next 12 months are going to define the relationships they have with the communities they serve for a generation, so we need to think hard about the choices open to us and make sure we’re heading in the right direction.
A decade of rising costs and stagnating public investment across the sector had already left many organisations struggling to make ends meet before this crisis; the delivery of creative learning, community engagement and other charitable objectives increasingly compromised by an existential focus on commercial viability. And although organisations had risen to this challenge by massively increasing earned income in recent years, the growing reliance on commercial activities (the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, which I run, needs to earn 90% of its turnover) is of course exactly why they have been eviscerated by the COVID-19 shutdown.
Notwithstanding the promise of emergency DCMS support for the sector last week, and the beginnings of a ‘roadmap’ to re-open venues, theatres up and down the country are continuing to announce job losses, and many are now planning for a resumption of activity in Spring 2021 at the earliest, with fingers crossed and no clear sense of how long they’ll actually be dealing with social-distancing, which as we all know is the key to any return of ‘business as usual’.
To date, with support from HMRC, most theatres have managed to retain their staff teams and undertake some level of ongoing creative or audience engagement activity, but with the end of that HMRC support in sight, this is no longer sustainable. So what do we do now?
Clearly, one approach open to theatre managements is to scale back activities and reduce costs to a level that means they can remain solvent until ‘business as usual’ can be restored – hence the current slew of redundancy announcements and the prospect of so many skilled staff being lost to the industry. But that could see a lot of theatres very quiet over the next 6-12 months, and there’s no guarantee that the longed-for return to normal trading will come before the DCMS money runs out, assuming any of it finds its way beyond the ‘crown jewels’ to grassroots regional organisations. As an approach this also, crucially, presupposes that ‘business as usual’ is our ultimate aim, which many are starting to question.
For those organisations at the less well-funded end of the regional theatre spectrum, the economics of producing and presenting quality drama, dance, music, opera etc. have become increasingly tenuous over the last 10 years, at precisely the moment when cuts to other public services have been increasing the need for theatres to play an ever wider role within the towns and cities they serve. I’m a huge advocate for the public benefit that regional theatres can deliver across a range of creative, cultural, educational and wellbeing agendas, but when the gap between the need for such a broad-based civic programme and the ability of a theatre’s core business model to pay for it gets too wide, then something’s got to give. And when you add into that the important challenges coming from campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and Freelancers Make Theatre Work about representation and the balance of power within the sector, my sense is that much of what we consider ‘business as usual’ is in urgent need of a rethink. As well as presenting us with the biggest challenge to our industry in living memory, COVID-19 has offered us an opportunity to reflect, and an invitation to change.
At the Northcott, even though the removal of most of our Arts Council England funding a decade ago forced the theatre to adopt a determinedly commercial approach to ensuring its survival, over the last couple of years we’ve started to evolve into a much more porous creative organisation, as focused on building capacity and unleashing creativity within the communities we serve as on selling tickets and ice creams. Now COVID-19 has put a rocket under that process of evolution, with the very real possibility that within the next 12 months we’ll be able to achieve a level of change that might normally have taken us another decade. That’s why the decisions we make now about those 12 months are so crucial. We’ve decided to spend a year deepening our relationships within Devon and shaping a radical new programme of opportunities for individuals and communities to ‘Get Creative’. What other theatres do will depend on whether they feel their ‘business as usual’ has had its day and the extent of their appetite for radical change.
It will also, to some extent, depend on whether Arts Council England approach the next stage of its response to this crisis as an exercise in saving institutions, or as the biggest opportunity it’ll ever have to reset the cultural sector and to respond to the locally-understood needs of local cultural ecologies – a truly place-based, human-scale creative and cultural recovery. Let’s Create, Arts Council England’s recently published and encouragingly radical new 10 year strategy, gives much cause for optimism, but it wasn’t written in the expectation of COVID-19 and the scope for direct intervention that the organisation now has. We’re about to find out whether they want to restore ‘business as usual’ or work with their theatre constituency to effect radical change.
– Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the Northcott Theatre
09 July 2020
BOOM! to be released on 16 July
We’re happy to announce a release date for BOOM!, the short film by Jump, Fall, Fly that is part of the The Time Is Now commissions. The film will be premiered online on 16 July, at 7pm.
BOOM! is in part a story about mental health that is set in the mind of a young woman, who has been through a traumatic experience and has something to say. It is uplifting, moving, profound and ultimately full of love. Expect to see a magical and celebrated key worker in it! Jump, Fall, Fly use circus, theatre, strong visuals and film to capture the audience’s imagination and hopefully take them beyond the walls of lockdown.
07 July 2020
COVID-19 crisis update – ACE Emergency Funding
We learned today that Exeter Northcott Theatre’s application to Arts Council England for support from their COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund has been turned down.
As a registered charity, the Northcott is deeply grateful for the continued support of the University of Exeter, Exeter City Council and Arts Council England, which helps us keep the theatre’s doors open for our programme of live performance, and underpins our work with young people, our support for local artists and our engagement with diverse communities.
Why didn’t the Northcott receive Emergency funding from the Arts Council?
Exeter’s flagship theatre has been 90% reliant on earned income for its survival ever since Arts Council England removed the majority of the venue’s core funding in 2010, which is a much higher figure than most comparable-sized theatres in other UK cities.
The Northcott team has worked incredibly hard over the last decade to re-build a stable financial position. However, the legacy of that reliance on earned income – which in normal times is seen as a real strength – has left the Northcott particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis.
Although we’ve had to cancel over 200 performances meaning nearly £2m in lost revenues, it now seems that this relatively stable financial position means we haven’t been considered for support from this scheme, which was specifically set up to help organisations who wouldn’t otherwise survive until the end of September 2020.
It should be noted that this fund is not connected to Sunday’s announcement about the investment package pledged by the Government. We look forward to hearing more details about this investment and hope that they are announced soon.
Will the shows this autumn still go ahead? The Northcott team had come up with a radical plan to get the venue open again at the earliest opportunity and to welcome small audiences back to live performances in a COVID-secure environment. However, this funding decision means that we won’t be able to proceed with these plans and our Autumn and Christmas seasons will now not go ahead. We’ll be contacting bookers over the coming weeks to arrange refunds. Please bear with us – we will get in touch.
What does this mean for the Northcott’s staff? Although the HMRC Furlough Scheme has helped us weather the early months of this crisis, in common with many UK theatres we’re now heading into a much more difficult period. Ensuring the survival of the charity through this challenging time means that we’re going to have to make some tough decisions about the shape and size of the organisation going forward. Whilst the recent announcement of Government investment in the Culture, Heritage and Arts sectors points to the possibility of support at some point in the future, without clarity about eligibility for this and a detailed timetable for the re-opening of theatres, we are left with no option but to start the first stage of consultations with staff about the probability of over 50% redundancies.
The management and Trustees of the theatre would like to express their admiration for, and solidarity with the theatre’s amazing staff team who have worked wonders to make the Northcott such a success and now find themselves caught up in this awful situation.
Is the theatre likely to close? Although this funding decision is a real blow to culture in Exeter, rest assured that we’re doing everything we can to get the theatre’s doors open again, and although it may take longer than we had hoped, we’ll keep in touch as we navigate this unprecedented situation and we look forward to welcoming you back to the Northcott again soon.
“Whilst this is undoubtedly a challenging moment for the Northcott, and our staff team, we’re already focusing on how the Northcott charity can build back from this crisis stronger than ever, with audiences and communities at the heart of what we do, and we’re confident that after this unexpected ‘interval’ we’ll be able to play a key role in shaping how culture and creativity lead Exeter’s recovery from COVID-19.”
– Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director & Chief Executive
How can I help? There are undoubtedly challenges ahead but, rest assured, we’ll be back to ensure that people in Exeter and the surrounding region can enjoy excellent live theatre. If you love local theatre and would like to support us though this time, please donate here.