Making theatre in the midst of austerity

Jenny Hughes writes on Manchester Policy Blogs: How is austerity affecting actual theatre-makers caught up in this morality play, and how are they responding? Cuts to public sector spending, which provides essential support for institutional, community-based and grassroots theatre-makers nationally, are continuing to have a damaging impact on the theatre-making ecology.

Debates about payment for artists, the lack of socio-economic diversity in the theatre industry, the threat to arts in schools, as well as a growing realisation amongst socially-engaged theatre-makers that poverty might be an ‘elephant in the room’, have become more prominent.

Austerity leads to an inevitable narrowing of the stories that get told on theatre stages, and of the range of people that get to enact those stories. Here, austerity’s self-destruct button – the way it produces, as Blyth suggests, precisely what it is trying to avoid, economic insecurity and impoverishment – is being thoroughly activated.

Publicly-subsidised theatre practice may not appear profitable when measured in purely economic terms, but it provides the energy that underpins one of the most successful sectors of the UK economy – the creative industries – as well as arguably lessening the burden on other areas of the public sector by improving quality of life, well-being and social cohesion of communities.

A one-day symposium, Making Theatre in the Midst of Austerity, brought together more than 80 makers, researchers, arts professionals and community members to explore how austerity is affecting the theatre sector. The day reflected the diversity of concerns relevant to this theme – there were presentations on theatre in sites affected by poverty, the impact of austerity on theatre buildings, the precarious economies of theatre-making, the politics of participation and representation, theatre activism and community-based initiatives.

[Read full column on Manchester Policy Blogs…]