Cuts: Hytner & Boyle host forum on 'crisis' facing regional theatre
In the presence of over 20 artistic directors and chief executives from venues across the UK, Hytner said the aim of the discussion was to "draw attention to what we risk losing" as government spending cuts continue to bite.
In a rousing opening speech, Boyle, who recently won acclaim for his direction of the Olympics Opening Ceremony, said: "My journey to the opening ceremony began at the Bolton Octagon, where I worked as an usher as a teenager." Acknowledging the "decent, good, honest" directors gathered around him, the Oscar-winner emphasised that the work they produce is seen by "as many people in the UK as go to football matches".
Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans also spoke of his personal debt to his local theatre in south Wales, adding "my life was changed because I was completely inspired by the theatre". He said that Sheffield is facing a £137 per resident reduction in funding, "a 20 percent in-year cut". "In the short term this will decimate our community, in the long run it will have a dramatic impact on the arts in this country."
Thanking Hytner for hosting the event, he added: "We are here at the National Theatre, but there's another national theatre happening at venues up and down the UK."
Other speakers included Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse artistic director Gemma Bodinetz, who spoke of the importance of culture to the city's "civic pride", and Salisbury Playhouse's Gareth Machin, who echoed these sentiments and warned of the need to construct a "long term strategic plan rather than quick fire solutions to gain political favour."
In an emotional address, Northern Stage's Erica Whyman, who is taking up a new job with the RSC in January, said she had "fallen in love" with the North East. "Modest but sustained investment in culture allows a region to think completely differently about itself," she said, citing Antony Gormley's Angel of the North and the Sage Gateshead as examples. "For every pound that is spent on our buildings, four goes back into the local economy."
She added that Newcastle City Council told her recently that, in light of the "desperate" financial situation they're facing over the next three years, there could be a "100 percent" cut to arts funding in the region.
In response to culture secretary Maria Miller's recent call for the arts to be "better at asking, not just receiving" funds, Nicholas Hytner dismissed this as "wishful thinking". He acknowledged that, while it might be "easy" for an institution such as the National to attract private funding, this wasn't the case for struggling regional venues. Speaking to Whatsonstage.com Hytner said: "Private money follows public money. Philanthropists want to get behind success stories, not dig people out of a hole."
Chichester Festival Theatre's Jonathan Church endorsed this, saying that when he was at Birmingham Rep they had a development department to raise funds that "cost more money to run than it brought in".
Bristol Old Vic's Tom Morris, who was previously an associate director at the National, expressed his anger at the "disjointedness" of David Cameron's apparent enthusiasm for arts investment during the Olympics, and the ongoing programme of cuts. "We had hoped that the Olympics showed the government had turned a corner," he said.
Today's summit comes after 206 arts organisations - including Riverside Studios and Shared Experience - lost funding completely last year, and many others faced severe reductions, in the wake of the slashing of the Arts Council's budget from £449 million to £314 million a year by 2014. Bolton Octagon artistic director David Thacker neatly summarised the mood: "Regional theatre is in very serious danger, and that's why we're here."
For more on the impact of government spending cuts on the arts, see whatsonstage.com/cuts