What does the future hold for the National Theatre? Having accepted an emergency loan from the Government's Culture Recovery Fund, Rufus Norris, Director and Joint Chief Executive of the National Theatre, reflects on the work of cultural recovery beyond 2020 and finding every way possible to support the wider arts ecology.
This week the National Theatre was offered a loan of £19m from the Culture Recovery Fund, a sum which is essential to our survival. Nobody agrees to acquire such a debt without some reluctance, but my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude. Without this lifeline, the National may not have survived.
The fact that 85 per cent of the NT’s income is self-generated left us particularly vulnerable when it disappeared overnight. Like many other theatres, we have depleted our reserves, implemented radical redundancy plans and undergone internal restructuring. Our staff numbers have been cut by more than a third, wage cuts have been implemented across the whole workforce, and production budgets have been halved. Every aspect of how we make work is being rethought in order to keep the organisation intact.
However, the work of cultural recovery extends far beyond the preservation of organisational infrastructure. We cannot consider ourselves ‘recovered’ until we recapture our spirit of innovation. The NT is home to a workforce of astonishing expertise which delivers across an extraordinary range, from Make Theatre days for primary school children to Broadway-bound productions such as The Lehman Trilogy, serving local, national and international audiences in the process. We are a formidable creative campus, and like Apple, Google and Facebook, we are utterly reliant on an army of innovators who collaborate and collide in the nooks and crannies of our brutalist building.
Unlike those tech companies, however, our creative army are not permanent employees of the NT. They are freelancers and the Fund makes no provision for their survival. Nor was it able to underpin the commercial theatre: the government will reap great benefit by offering this part of the sector the insurance essential to enable it to spring back into action, by protecting core expenses against the fluctuating restrictions.
The loan we have been offered this week will keep us afloat. But to simply take the money and wait out the storm would be to betray the very idea of ‘cultural recovery’. It falls to us, and organisations like ours, to commission, convene and produce new work. To open to socially distanced audiences, to innovate and expand digitally, to employ our peerless artists and continue to contribute to the lives of our audience. We must find every way possible of supporting an arts ecology predicated on the belief that access to arts and culture is part of our birth right. Thanks to the loan we are able, once again, to play our part.
This blog was originally published as part of a wider article in The Telegraph. Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz