Like you I have often found solace in the theatre in times of personal crisis. I love the way it so often happens that theatre can offer you just the right play at the right time in your life, as if it has been written just for you for just that moment. I saw Uncle Vanya not long after my mother’s death, and was reduced to silent tears by Sonya’s last great speech, in which she suggests that we do endure even when all hope is lost. It gave me the strength to go on. I felt is if Chekhov had written it just for me. If felt as if he knew.
I firmly believe that there is something healing about sitting in the dark and watching stories unfold on stage, and the fact we can’t do that at the moment, perhaps at the time when we need it most, is heart-breaking. But at some point in the future, sooner rather than later I hope, theatre will be back and it will find ways to heal our grief, or at least be part of that process.
How can we all help it on its way? The most obvious thing theatre and its workforce (employed and self-employed) needs is money to keep it afloat while it is unable to produce.
So, while it’s a tough financial time for many of us at the moment, if you can spare anything make a donation. It could be to your favourite venue. But don’t forget that much of the great work produced by British theatre is made by small companies, not theatres themselves. Great Aunt Cecily spent an idle afternoon the other day between Bargain Hunt and Escape to the Country making a list of her five favourite shows made by independent companies over the last few years and slung them all a cheque in the post. I am a wee bit worried they won’t know what a cheque is, so personally I’d go via the electronic transfer route.
Other donation possibilities include the Theatre Artists Fund, set up to support theatre-makers facing hardship, and The Fleabag Support Fund. Both will get your money to those most in need.
If you want to help but can’t afford it unless there some kind of return (and there is no blame if that’s the case) then buy membership for a venue or buy tickets in advance. If the show cannot go on you will get a refund, or you can decide at that point whether you will convert it into a donation.
If there are playwrights whose writing you love then buy a playtext of their work. Or buy from one of the theatre freelancers who have turned their hand to making or selling their work. The Stage Christmas Gift Guide (not behind the paywall) is a good place to start. In the Gardner household it is Christmas every day. Or how about thinking beyond the box and getting together with others in your local area to fund the wages of a theatre artist in your community?
Other useful things you can do is join the Public Campaign for the Arts, and keep the pressure up on your local MP; write and explain that the theatre industry is facing catastrophe, and ask what they are doing to help, because it will affect your future voting intentions. It’s not a bad time either to be lobbying your local councillors. Local authorities make as significant contribution to arts funding as central government, via the Arts Council. They are going to be cash-strapped moving forward so it is crucial to remind them that local people value the arts and the contribution that LA’s make to it.
Theatre is in a pickle and the latest lockdown has dealt a severe blow, but like Sonya and Uncle Vanya, it will endure. We just need to do all we can to give it a helping hand.
Cover Image: Toby Jones and Richard Armitage in Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre in Jan 2020. Photo by Johan Persson.