Centre Stage – supporting small theatres in the capital

25 July 2013

Every year there are 32,000 theatrical productions across the capital, many in London’s 105 smaller venues which help develop talent and shows and also boost the economy by drawing visitors to areas outside central London. Centre Stage, an action plan by our Economy Committee,  highlights how many small theatres face threats to their existence and may be at risk of closing. 

View our slides setting out the recommendations we've made in the action plan:

Theatres, producers, directors, audiences and actors all contributed their views to the investigation.

Actor and Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville told us:

“London’s small theatres provide a vibrant, integral contribution to the fabric of the Capital’s theatre scene. With the demise of repertory theatre over the last few decades they are one of the very few places, outside the main stream, where actors, directors, producers, technical and design teams can experiment, take risks and most importantly develop their craft to sustain a career in theatre.”

Actress and comedienne Jo Brand told us:

“Theatres and performance spaces are essential if we value cultural experiences. Opportunities to experiment and learn are vital to sustain the fantastic performing talent we nurture, - against all odds, it sometimes feels. Small is generally where you start, hence the preservation of small venues must be a priority, not just in London but country wide

Our new survey showed almost half of small theatres feel insecure about their financial future and more than a third fear their venues are at risk of being sold or converted by developers. It also set out an action plan to boost audiences, expand shows and make it easier for venues to access funding for building repairs.

The survey also found:

  • one in five feel ‘very insecure’ about their financial future
  • three quarters of small venues surveyed need to significantly upgrade or repair their buildings but 93 per cent have yet to raise the money to carry out the work
  • managers have very low awareness of new planning laws that could help to protect theatre buildings
  • many small venues do not attract enough customers but have difficulty finding resources for marketing

The report also warns that while most theatres have survived the economic downturn so far, a further squeeze on disposable incomes could have a significant impact. Reduced spending on the arts - both nationally and locally – has already hit several of London’s theatres hard and more cuts are likely.

It calls on the Mayor to appoint a new ambassador for small theatres to bring the sector together and implement the recommendations.

It also urges Transport for London to enable venues to advertise in Tube, rail and tram stations by replacing out-of-date posters or filling empty spaces with details of local productions.

Other recommendations include:

  • Better marketing and promotion about shows at small theatres through festivals organised by the Greater London Authority and on the ‘Visit London’ website
  • New joint marketing by small theatres to boost audience numbers and for West End venues to consider greater co-operation to assist smaller theatres
  • The GLA and London boroughs should consider ways to help with funding, such as through regeneration funds, or the Community Infrastructure Levy, and more small theatres encouraged to apply for Arts Council funding.
  • The GLA should also consider setting up a new fund to help theatres, drawing in philanthropic support, which would raise money for theatre repairs and upgrades.
  • Smaller theatres could be given access to performance space in larger theatres to encourage expansion of successful shows or be allowed to use empty spaces, such as vacant offices or shops, identified by the GLA, London boroughs and local business groups
  • The Mayor should offer up available space in City Hall to small theatre groups needing places to rehearse.

The Mayor's response is attached below.