Guest Blog: Equity president Malcolm Sinclair on why My Theatre Matters - and what you should do about it
Malcolm Sinclair is president of Equity, the UK trade union for actors and creative practitioners, and a long-term sponsor of the Whatsonstage.com Awards. He has just finished playing opposite Rowan Atkinson in Quartermaine's Terms at the West End's Wyndham's Theatre. Here he talks about the Equity-backed "My Theatre Matters!" campaign that was launched in March.
I've worked in theatres up and down the country all my professional life. I am at the moment President of Equity, as well as a working actor. When theatre is a special place, it's almost always because of the audience.
My first job at the Bristol Old Vic was as the Man from Hoxton in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I had just graduated from the Old Vic Theatre School and I had no idea what life as an actor would entail. But I understood pretty quickly what theatre was about - actors and audience together in that space - and I began to realise that theatres don’t just belong to actors, they belong to audiences.
Which is why I am one hundred per cent behind the My Theatre Matters! campaign. Audiences need to know that, unless they make their voices heard about how much they love, value and support them, their theatres are at risk.
This intimate relationship between actor and audience makes it entirely appropriate that the My Theatre Matters! campaign should be about mobilising audiences to defend their theatres from cuts.
We are asking audiences to contact their local Council, telling them how much they favour their Councils financial supporting their theatres. Regular theatregoers may not realise how much their Councils support their local theatres, that without that support ticket prices could go up to London West End prices of £70 or £80 a seat or, even worse, their theatres could actually close.
It isn't that Councils don't want to support theatre - I know from my own experience that Councils are proud of the cultural life of their towns and cities. Last year I spent several weeks in Sheffield performing in David Hare's Racing Demon. Sheffield is a wonderful place for actors and audiences. The Council has supported its theatres - the Crucible, the Lyceum, and the Studio - for many years and is extremely proud of them.
But cuts in grants from central Government have put Councils such as Sheffield into an impossible position. They are being given a false choice between spending on things we all agree are essential - education and social services for example - and theatres. But we are a country that can and should be able to afford both. Arts spending is but a tiny percentage of a Council's overall budget.
I am confident that audiences up and down the United Kingdom will rally around this campaign. I know that you love your theatres and want them to thrive. Don't you? By adding your names to the campaign, you will demonstrate your support for local subsidy for local theatre, even in these hard times, and your desire that our theatres go on entertaining us, our children and our grandchildren.