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Report reveals plight of London's small theatres

A major report into the state of London's small theatres has made a series of recommendations to save venues from closure

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The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill
A groundbreaking new report by the London Assembly has revealed that a significant number of the capital's small theatres are worried about their financial future.

The report, titled Centre Stage - Supporting small theatres in the capital, surveyed 105 smaller venues over a period of six months.

It finds that "the combined pressures of a struggling economy and reductions in public spending have increased the risks facing small theatres".

Three quarters of venues surveyed said they need to significantly upgrade or repair their buildings, but 93 percent have yet to raise the money to carry out the work. One in five feel "very insecure" about their financial future.

Despite only 20 percent reporting a decrease in ticket sales in that past year, many felt they do not attract enough customers and have difficulty finding resources for marketing.

Clare Slater, executive director of the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, told the committee: "We have limited marketing budgets and we also, more importantly, have limited staff resources to focus on marketing. We do not currently have a dedicated member of staff solely working on marketing, and if we did this would allow a more in-depth strategy to help grow our core audience. Instead it is part of our producer's role, who is already very busy."

The report advocates the use of joint marketing initiatives between venues and better promotion through the establishment of festivals organised by the Greater London Authority (GLA).

It also said the Mayor should offer available space in City Hall to small theatre groups needing to rehearse, and that a fund should be established drawing in philanthropic support to raise money for theatre repairs and upgrades.

Of the venues surveyed, over 50 percent receive no public subsidy.

More than 85% of theatre managers said they lacked rehearsal space, while 34% feared their theatre spaces would be sold or converted.

Labour's Tom Copley, who led the investigation, said: "When most people think of theatre in London their thoughts immediately turn to the West End. Yet London's theatre scene extends far beyond the bright lights of Leicester Square and Covent Garden.

"From the Bull Theatre in Barnet to the Blue Elephant in Camberwell, Questors in Ealing to the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch, London's small theatres play a major role in the cultural life of our city."

Comedienne Jo Brand added: "Theatres and performance spaces are essential if we value cultural experiences. Opportunities to experiment and learn are vital to sustain the fantastic performing talent we nurture - against all odds, it sometimes feels. Small is generally where you start, hence the preservation of small venues must be a priority, not just in London but country wide."

Read the full report here