Real risk diverse actors will leave industry, says RSC deputy artistic director

The deputy artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company has warned that the theatre world will become unable to support diverse communities if “the pain continues”.

Erica Whyman said there was “real risk” many theatre companies could close for a “substantial length of time” if they were not able to reopen before Christmas.

She warned that young actors and those from diverse backgrounds would suffer most from the impact of theatre closures, especially in the regions.

Erica Whyman (Royal Shakespeare Company/PA)

Ms Whyman told the PA news agency: “I feel there is a real risk that many, many theatre companies will either close for a very substantial length of time if we don’t have clarity that we can get our theatres open and working before Christmas.

“I think some we won’t see recover, that has to be said out loud.

“There will be some that cannot find their way back from that crisis, because if they can’t get back open by Christmas that’s getting on for nine months they will be closed, and they will have lost the income from that critical Christmas period.”

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that live indoor theatre and concerts would be able to resume with socially-distanced audiences from August 1 – subject to the success of pilots.

She added: “In the main we are charities – not all of us, some are of us are in the commercial sector – but most of us are charities.

“We are driven by a mission to share theatre and theatre-making with the widest possible community.

“And we just won’t be fit to do that if the pain continues.”

Boris Johnson visit to Scotland
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The RSC works closely with 12 regional partner theatres across the UK, including The Grand Theatre in Blackpool and the Hull Truck Theatre.

Recent projects with its national partners include Shakespeare Nation, an adult participation programme which launched in 2019 with projects in Blackpool, Nottingham and Hull.

Ms Whyman said she was “very worried about the most diverse talent in our industry”.

She added: “Younger generations in the main who are more diverse in a number of ways, in their socio-economic background, ethnic background, artists who identify as deaf or disabled.

“We have seen many more people come into the performing arts in the last decade and that has been a very good thing.

“And we know from research we have already conducted that they are the most likely to leave, to not feel they can stick out in this kind of economic climate.”

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The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, owned by the RSC (Sam Allard/RSC/PA)

The Government has previously announced a £1.57 billion support package for the arts, with music venues, theatres, museums, galleries, independent cinemas and heritage sites eligible for emergency grants and loans.

Ms Whyman said: “We were very glad and relieved to hear about the package of money that will be distributed to the performing arts but at this moment it’s really important to say we still don’t know when that will be.”

She also suggested that Shakespeare’s work had increased meaning during the pandemic, because the playwright himself lived through multiple lockdowns during the plague.

“You underestimate him at your peril”, she said.

“He lived through so many different lockdowns and we are seeing the plays through different eyes now.

“He wrote them either during lockdown or immediately afterwards and often he is talking about what it is like to emerge back into the world and be reunited with family.

“I think he would recognize this world. He might have some advice.”

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