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Jermyn Street Theatre to remain closed until 2021

JERMYN Street Theatre has announced that it will remain closed until 2021. The venue, which locked its doors on March 13 alongside hundreds of other venues across the country because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has issued a statement firmly expressing that the decision has been made “in the absence of any news from government”.

It urges its audience to lobby for Westminster, ahead of a debate in the House of Commons, to show real and tangible support of the theatre industry.

The full statement, penned by Jermyn Street Theatre Artistic Director Tom Littler, reads:

“On 4 July, many parts of ‘normal life’ will reopen. Theatres are still closed and live performance is prohibited.

Even if we are allowed to reopen, British theatres cannot break even with social distancing – we rely on full houses. Theatres in Europe are already reopening – because there’s more state funding for theatre in Berlin than in the whole of England, so they can run with socially distanced audiences.

Jermyn Street Theatre is a charity funded by box office, private philanthropy, trusts, and nifty co-producing. We get no government grants, although we are hugely grateful to our patrons and to Arts Council England for their emergency funding this spring.

Theatres have asked government for a rescue package – a mix of loans, insurance, tax breaks, the extension of the Jobs Retention ‘furlough’ Scheme, and an investment. The money we need is far less than the bailout of the big three airlines.

Week after week has gone by. Government silence has been deafening.

Meanwhile, theatre is falling apart. Freelancers are all unemployed. Being closed is ruinously expensive. Some of the regional theatres we work with have already made most staff redundant. 70% of theatres expect to close permanently by Christmas.

Sport, cinema, restaurants, shops, pubs, museums and galleries can all chart a path back, but the performing arts – theatre, dance, live music – are incredibly difficult to reopen safely or profitably while coronavirus is in circulation unvaccinated and untreatable.

There is only one risk bigger than being closed – reopening and being forced to close again.

Reopening is a costly operation. We can’t put enough seats on sale. And if one person in a cast or crew tested positive, we’d close – without insurance. We would go bankrupt.

In the absence of any news from government, we have taken the difficult but necessary decision to remain closed to the public for the rest of 2020.

We have some very exciting projects coming up online, and by autumn we will start to create productions in our empty theatre, and stream them to your home. We’ll stay creative, entertaining you and employing as many artists as we can. But we cannot open the doors.

I’m entirely confident that theatre will return, as it has endured for thousands of years. Gathering to witness live drama is one of humanity’s oldest activities. But the survival of the theatres we know and love is directly in the government’s hands. It is not a question of when, but if.

Without government investment, it will take decades for theatre to crawl back to anything like its current levels. While we wait, the next generation of artists will be forced out of the industry.

Only a handful of MPs are fighting for theatre. Perhaps Parliament thinks theatre is a niche activity. Perhaps MPs think there are ‘no votes in the arts’ and it’s ‘not a postbag issue’. I’m asking you and your friends to change that.

34 million people go to the theatre every year – many more than attend all professional football. Our tickets start at £5. Theatres employ over 300,000 people. The creative industries employ one in six people in London. Virtually every writer, director, and actor on TV and Netflix has developed their talents in theatre. There’s nothing niche about it.

Please write to your MP (always include your postal address). Just a line or two to say what theatre means to you, and that you know the sector is in desperate need of urgent financial support. Tell them it matters to you.

There’s a debate in Parliament today (June 25) triggered by this petition – please sign it to add your voice: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/320711.

MPs’ email addresses are here: members.parliament.uk/members/Commons.

Even if government support arrives, it may take several months to reach us, and there are no guarantees. If you have already donated to us, thank you. We’re creating a brilliant new Friends scheme to thank you properly.

We are small, so a little goes a long way. If you love live theatre, or have enjoyed our free Sonnet Project, live-streamed rehearsed readings, quizzes, Sing for Your Supper cabaret, #MyTinyPlay, Prompt Corner podcasts – please consider donating.

The simplest way to donate is www.gofundme.com/f/jermyn-street-theatre-emergency-fund or you can visit www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk.

We hope to see you soon. Stay well.

Tom Littler, Artistic Director”