Following the Bridewell Theatre’s final farewell concert on Sunday, Whatsonstage.com reader Gareth James was moved to write the following open letter to: Peter Hewitt, Chief Executive of Arts Council England; Chris Duffield, CEO of the Corporation of London and Lord Lloyd Webber.
I am addressing this letter to you because one of you is responsible for the distribution of £335 million to the arts in this country; one of you is accountable for managing the local authority for the City of London and one of you made your fortune from musical theatre.
On Sunday 12 December 2004, the Bridewell Theatre closed its doors and the company which shared its name ceased operations. The Bridewell was the UK’s only real ‘laboratory’ for musical theatre – an art form which contributes significantly to London’s pre-eminence for theatre and its attraction to residents and visitors alike. The Bridewell was the City of London’s only producing theatre (the Barbican Centre receives or sometimes co-produces).
In its ten-year life it received little or no funding. It did however become crucial to writers and performers of musical theatre – nurturing talent and providing free training and development for your future casts, Lord Lloyd Webber. It played a key R&D role which none of the other organisations you fund provide, Mr Hewitt. It provided entertainment for the City’s residents and workers, Mr Duffield. Its production standards often matched or exceeded West End theatres. Its respect for its loyal audience was second to none.
It would have cost £90,000 to keep the company running and £360,000 to keep it running AND the building open. The audience came up with £32,500 to keep it running for most of 2004, but without more it could not continue. Let’s put these sums into perspective, shall we? £90,000 is 0.004% of Covent Garden’s grant, Mr Hewitt (though this does probably represent a significant portion of the petticoat budget!), or just 0.03% of the £3m increase you gave it this year. It’s 0.004% of what the Barbican Centre costs you each year, Mr Duffield (maybe one less coat of paint in yet another refurbishment?). It’s what you gross in one year from just five of the 1400 seats at The Woman in White, Lord Lloyd Webber.
The final part of Sunday’s final performance was a defiant showcase of six new works. The talent on show was breathtaking. If you had been there, you would know exactly what to do, but you weren’t there so I have decided to write this letter. You could do nothing and wrestle with your conscience, or you could do the right thing – get your cheque books out NOW. It is not too late; they haven’t finished packing yet.
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