Sam Mendes calls on streaming services to help save theatres

Sir Sam Mendes has called on streaming services that are “making lockdown millions” to help the arts that have been “mortally wounded” during the coronavirus crisis.

The acclaimed director of films such as Skyfall and 1917 and plays such as The Lehman Trilogy and The Ferryman, said theatre and live entertainment are in “grave danger” and asked platforms such as Netflix and Amazon to help out the culture that has nurtured its talent pools.

Writing in the Financial Times, he said: “This is not being alarmist; it is simply a statement of fact. The lockdown in response to Covid-19 has forced a total closure of all public performance spaces, removing all trading income at a single stroke.

“Initially, limited cash reserves cushioned the blow of closure, and the UK’s job retention scheme has mostly saved arts organisations from making immediate redundancies. But the continuance of social distancing makes the prospect of reopening simply impossible.”

Sir Sam said theatres must be kept alive until it is possible for venues to re-open and called for an extension to the Government’s job rentention scheme as well as a package to support freelancers and self-employed artists.

He also called for the Government’s theatre tax relief scheme to be increased from 20% to 50% for the next three years, and said it should apply to the production’s ongoing running costs, and to the remounting of suspended productions.

Sir Sam also asked private individuals who invest in productions, known as “Theatrical Angels”, to offset production losses against production profits, and touted the “game-changing proposal” of the Cultural Investment Participation Scheme, in which the Government itself could be an “Angel”.

He said: “The performing arts need to be saved now. Not next week, or next month. If they die, an ecosystem this intricate and evolved cannot be rebuilt from scratch.

“If it stops breathing, it cannot be resuscitated. It is the product of decades of capital projects, loyal audiences, and of communities large and small.

“We have had dreadful warnings already. Theatres across the UK are already going out of business (Southampton, Southport and Leicester among them), while others are on the brink of redundancy consultations with most of their staff.

“So here is our message to those in Government — let us work with you now to find this solution. There is a way.

“One last thing. While a huge percentage of working people have suffered over these past three months, there are also many (whisper it) whom Covid-19 has made rich.

“It would be deeply ironic if the streaming services — Netflix, Amazon Prime et al — should be making lockdown millions from our finest acting, producing, writing and directing talent, while the very arts culture that nurtured that talent pool is allowed to die.

“Is there anyone among those people willing to use a fraction of their Covid-19 windfall to help those who have been mortally wounded? If so, I hope you’re reading this, and that you are able to think of the arts landscape as more than just a ‘content provider’, but instead as an ecosystem that supports us all.”

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