The Business of London Theatres

London Theatres Business

London Theatres Business – Femmes Fatales At N.o.w’14, A Festival For Emerging Artists

LONDON, United Kingdom ­− London’s theatre landscape, like for the rest of the arts, is vast and varied. It includes the glittering lights of the West End and the small, twenty-seat rooms above pubs and cafés, via theatre festivals and community projects. What one often forgets in the midsts of this incredible offer is that theatre is not only an artistic pursuit, but an economic enterprise that needs to raise funds to sustain itself which also contributes to the local economic life.

In 2013, London’s West End registered record box office sales for the tenth year running ­– 14,587,276 attendances for an impressive total of £585,506,455 in sales. The figures, provided by the Society of London Theatre, are for the fifty-two major theatres in central London, and show just how crucial a contribution theatre makes to the local economy, as well as its vibrant cultural life. To encourage this, and after years of cuts to arts funding, the Chancellor announced in March 2014 that theatre shows would get a 25 percent tax relief. However, the economic downturn from which the city – like the rest of the UK and much of Europe – is still trying to recover means that when public funding to the arts was cut, many theatres, like other cultural institutions, had to look elsewhere to make sure they get the funding they need not just to survive but to thrive.

London Theatres Business

London Theatres Business – The Cast Of War Horse At The New London Theatre, Photo By Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Big or renowned theatres can rely on a mix of public funding, grants, private sponsorship and tickets sales – and when cuts to arts funding were announced, theatres and theatre companies joined other cultural actors to show how they contribute to the economic life of the city and their local communities. In 2010, the Almeida Theatre, based in North London, provided figures for the ‘Off-West End’ consortium of 12 theatres in London, showing how they alone employ about 1,500 people each year, selling about one million tickets and generating an annual turnover of about £28 million per year.

The Royal Court, for instance, is one of the best-known theatres in London: it received funding from the Arts Council, but it also raises money from ticket sales, fundraising and commercial activities – the last three types of sources amount to about 60 percent of its income. Similarly, the Young Vic, a theatre in South London that nurtures young talent and works with many organisations in projects that aim for social as well as cultural impact – working with children and groups who are at the margins of society. They are two examples of how theatres rely on a mixed source of funding to fund their core activities, and also show how they are relevant to the life of the society they are immersed in beyond simply providing entertainment. They also create jobs – for the restaurants around them and their supply chain as well as for the people they employ directly.

London Theatres Business

London Theatres Business – The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time In The West End

This mix also means that they can use their commercial successes to fund community projects, foster the emergence of younger theatre-makers and make participating in the life of the theatre accessible even to those less wealthy. Yet beyond the West End and the best-known theatres, London is also home to myriads of smaller theatres: according to London Assembly data from summer 2013, there are 105 theatres with fewer than 300 seats and/or an income of up to £250,000. Eighteen of these theatres are linked to a pub or a café – and 70 percent of their audiences will stay and buy drinks at the pub below. These theatres are vital to the life of local communities, and often nurture young talents that will grow to contribute to the wider cultural life of the city and beyond. Some of the small but successful ones even offer schemes for traineeships or apprenticeships– not just on the artistic side but also for management, administration or marketing.

Unlike the big theatres, which are large enough to run successful and extensive marketing campaigns to push their tickets sales, the finances of the smaller theatres are sometimes precarious. In 2013, the London Assembly found that these theatres received about half of their income from public funding, but they needed to rely on other sources for the rest. However, this is where they struggle, and are sometimes unable to pay even the minimum wage. Talking to younger theatre-makers who are at the beginning of their careers, it is clear that such struggles are part of the course and that they also need to tap into a variety of sources to be able to sustain their work in the theatre world.

London Theatres Business

London Theatres Business – Get In The Back Of The Van Performed As Part Of The Almeida Festival 2013

When the companies are very small or very young, they are often unable to get grants from the bigger funding bodies – and thus have to look elsewhere. While the aim is to become strong enough to get money from tickets, grants and private fundraising, creativity and modernity have of course helped to look for new ways to do this. There are many crowdfunding sites that perhaps offer a good model for future financing: sites like Kickstarter, IndieGogo, Spomsume or WeDidThis can help to get a new project off the ground.

Festivals are another good way to get started: theatres like the Yard, in East London, select emerging artists to develop their work with them as part of a yearly festival – N.O.W. ’14 was running until mid-April. Similar projects, big and small, run throughout the year – from the Vaults Festival in Waterloo to LIFT, a much bigger affair which has existed for over thirty years and brings together international theatre across the city.

London theatres big and small help to make the city a global capital of culture – and investing in them helps to keep them sustainable economic ventures, so that they can continue to foster creativity!

Emma De Angelis About the author

A historian by training and editor by profession, reviews the glittering lights of the West End, unsuspected ballet classes in shabby Whitechapel and edgy shows in disused railway tunnels. With a PhD from LSE, she lives and breathes the London stage.