In a guest blog for Everything Theatre, London Assembly Member Tom Copley talks about the challenges facing small theatres in the capital, and about the investigation he is leading to look at what can be done to assist them.
There are 17,000 theatrical productions every year in the capital, ranging from one man shows to musicals, innovative new work and old favourites. London has more theatres and more theatrical productions each year than New York, Tokyo or Paris.
London’s small theatres make an invaluable contribution to the cultural life of our city. Countless actors, writers, directors and producers have cut their teeth in small venues across London. Some shows go on to find success in the West End and on Broadway while others fade into obscurity. But while London’s small theatres have been thriving in recent years, they face a number of serious challenges.
Concerns about funding cuts, uncertainty over tenancies, cost of building repairs and trouble promoting their productions are some of the many problems affecting London’s smaller venues. That’s why I have launched an investigation on behalf of the London Assembly’s Economy Committee into what the Mayor can do to help protect a vital cultural and economic asset.
For some small venues their very existence is under threat. I recently visited the Union Theatre in Southwark, under threat of redevelopment from Network Rail. It is deeply concerning that such an important cultural centre could be lost because London’s property market makes redevelopment into office space or flats so enticing for property owners.
In his 2010 cultural strategy, the Mayor said he was working with, and encouraging institutions, local authorities and funding bodies to ensure that ‘high quality cultural services are expanded and enhanced across London’. Now is the time to live up to that aspiration.
Clearly there’s not going to be a one size fits all solution. London’s theatres come in all shapes and sizes, from Victorian grandeur, to rooms above pubs, newly built venues to improvised spaces for one-off productions. Each one has different challenges and that’s why we’re asking as many as possible to get in touch and let us know what the Mayor can do to help.
After all, the Mayor does have some significant influence. He runs London’s tourist agency, London & Partners and appoints the Chair of Arts Council London. He runs the transport network that gets people to shows, and the poster sites that commuters look at every day.
On a more technical level, he’s responsible for putting together the annual London Plan that Councils use to guide their planning decisions and controls over £50m to promote economic growth in town centres across the capital.
London’s world-renowned theatre scene doesn’t just produce great drama – it also generates a huge amount for the local economy by bringing people into local town centres and filling the bars and restaurants around the venue. £10 spent on a ticket can easily be spent many times over in other local businesses.
That’s why it’s essential that we do more to protect our small venues. We want to hear from small venues about the scale of these challenge they face and how they could be helped by the Mayor.
We want to hear from audiences too – how often do you visit your local theatre? How do you hear about shows? And what could be done to improve the experience?