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The future of theatre in Sheffield

In recent weeks the state of theatre in the UK has changed repeatedly and the announcement of the Arts & Culture Rescue Package offers a lifeline, but where do we go from here?

Theatre
Lloyd Dirks (Unsplash)

In case you haven’t been feverishly following on Twitter: several major theatres announced redundancies and possible closures; hundreds of thousands of people petitioned the government to step in; and after weeks of strain on the people in the sector, a rescue package of £1.57bn was announced.

This money is a lifeline for many organisations and individuals in theatre, but it is not enough to save many venues, or to pay freelancers for lost work that no longer exists - and will not reappear for months yet.

It has become more apparent than ever that theatre needs not only cash, but a reconstruction of the industry. In Sheffield, we are lucky to have Sheffield Theatres, an organisation industrious in supporting creative people with finance, support and mentoring. But they too are endangered – just last week it was announced that 29% of their jobs are at risk. It’s a sad reminder that occasional cash injections, handed out unpredictably across the sector, will not be enough for theatre to survive and thrive into 2021.

There are ways out. Conversations among theatre-makers, producers and all those involved in the industry often return to finding a new way of working – no more living project-to-project, pushing people to be creative to a tight, often counterproductive timeframe. Instead, a new theatre model might include a universal basic income, so that people can be paid regardless of that day’s output. Effectively, they can be paid to make bad art first, a crucial part of making ‘good’ art – whatever that looks like.

There is no easy way to make this model real, but a good start is to make sure that artists have space and support, something that organisations like Sheffield Theatres have already done well.

The theatre ecology of this city, however, relies on more than the people it’s possible to support at Sheffield Theatres. It’s a good start, but it requires most theatre-makers to seek rehearsal space, mentorship and connections elsewhere. There must be stepping-stone solutions to that utopia of getting paid to be creative, pressure-free. This is something that, working with the fantastic board of directors at Portland Works, Only Lucky Dogs are trying to create.

Theatre Makerspace Portland Works Sheffield

Our project is a simple partnership – Portland Works have a beautiful, historic space, already used for a wide range of events such as heritage lectures, band rehearsals and art exhibitions. We make theatre, and we enjoyed making theatre so much at Portland Works that we wanted others to be able to as well.

We hope that our partnership will help address a central problem in theatre: as an emerging artist, giving venues confidence in your work so that they will programme you is challenging if you have not done it before. A place where - if the work is interesting and innovative and well-made - you can perform and get a majority share of the box office is key to getting started. Your show can be seen in the context of other exciting new work, bringing audiences keen to come and see what’s new.

We hope that, by sharing out the effort and the financial risk, the Makerspace at Portland Works will support emerging artists in Sheffield and beyond, and that it’ll be a useful and exciting place to experience new theatre in our city.

The Makerspace at Portland Works is a joint project with Only Lucky Dogs Theatre. Applications to be part of the opening season in January 2021 are open now until the end of September.

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