London’s Drill Hall (pictured) - the UK’s leading producer of lesbian and gay performance, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this autumn – has cancelled all further performances of its current in-house production, made its entire workforce redundant and put future programming on hold in the wake of Arts Council England’s (ACE) decision to withdraw its £250,000 annual grant (See News, 18 Dec 2007).

In the biggest cull in ACE’s history, the Drill Hall is one of 195 organisations who’ve just been informed that, unless they lodge a successful appeal by 15 January 2008, their funding for the three-year period from 2008 to 2011 will be cut off from April, the start of the next financial year.

In order to focus all energy and resources on its appeal, Drill Hall artistic director Julie Parker has taken the “difficult” but “prudent” decision to cancel the remaining run of Everett Quinton’s alternative Christmas show Bitch Slapped by God, a one-man antidote to pantomime which just opened on 3 December and was scheduled to continue until 6 January. The venue’s staff - 16 part-time and eight full-time – have been given redundancy notices, while artists awaiting contracts and commissions for 2008 have been put on hold indefinitely.

Parker told today: “Given the information from the Arts Council and the notice we’ve been given, we’ve had no choice. We have to do whatever we can to reduce expenditure, and in a 200-seat theatre, the best thing to do is close the doors.”

Although the venue has taken today’s action “unwillingly and with great great sadness”, Parker refuses to admit defeat in the bigger battle. “We don’t know what’s going to happen at the moment. If we can, we will keep the doors open. Everyone will move heaven and earth to make that happen.”

The Drill Hall’s £250,000 grant represents 20 percent of its annual turnover. It raises substantial funds through close ties with TV and radio production companies, who often use the space during weekdays. Parker has been told by ACE that its loss of funding isn’t to do with the nature or quality of the work but rather “our sustainability and ability to fundraise” which, given the 80% of necessary funds raised elsewhere each year, is, she says, “a hard one to swallow”.

“The Drill Hall is an enormously important venue in terms of the work we do within the arts infrastructure and within the landscape of London,” said Parker. “We have a great will to continue … It is not over.”

A “Save the Drill Hall” campaign has been launched on the theatre website. Supporters are asked to write to London mayor Ken Livingstone, Culture Secretary James Purnell, Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt or their local MP and to email personal testimonies that will be passed on to the Arts Council.

- by Terri Paddock