Originality: the price theatre pays for its survival (supporting student theatre) – OurWarwick
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Originality: the price theatre pays for its survival (supporting student theatre)

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Louis Wharton | English and Theatre Studies Contact Louis
Anything! But these are a few particular interests of mine:…
Find out more about me Contact Louis

In 1969, Richard Schechner asserted that ‘theatre will always take the path of least resistance to its audiences’. Set against the backdrop of both the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the economic devastation set to ensue due to it, Schechner has never sounded more prophetic. Undoubtedly, the arts and culture sector have, and will continue to be, devastated by COVID-19. If theatre will always take the path of least resistance, my question is just how will theatres recover? Can they ever truly recover from this? And what does that mean for new, original writing? Pro-longed closure and phased social distancing measures, that will directly reduce the seating capacity of theatres across London when they open back up, are inevitably going take their toll on the profits shared by leading West End producers. That means one thing, that when lockdown is lifted, producers will need shows that sell. Cameron Mackintosh, whose current net worth stands at an estimated £658 million, owns eight West End theatres that house prolific shows such as ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘Hamilton’. For Mackintosh, these shows guarantee ticket sales. But, arguably, this kind of restrictive theatre continues in ignorance to an ever-struggling industry.

West End theatres could easily secure a comfortable future by continuing to pump investment into well know, “sell out” shows, proven by the endurance of productions such as ‘Les Misérables’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Mamma Mia!’. And after all, these shows all have their merits, they are hugely enjoyable, require great amounts of effort from many departments and often display a great array of diverse talent. But most importantly, these shows have huge global fan bases and, to producers, they offer complete financial security. On top of the cross sales of key chains, t-shirts, posters and mugs, well known shows are certain to make huge profits. Fundamentally, the owners of these theatres would rather see their theatres open, full and making money than gamble on untried writing, not considering the detriment this poses to the hundreds of underrepresented voices up and down the nation that continue to offer fresh, original concepts and ideas year after year. It is now commonplace for shows to run for upwards of fifteen years, sometimes even more. The longest running show on the West End, Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’, has just entered its 68th year, and globally national tours have reached similarly staggering records. The recent North America tour of Phantom of the Opera clocked up an incredible 18 year run before closing on October 31st, 2010. This highlights another issue, there is demand for these shows. The cast may change, and set and costume may be tweaked, but as long as the music and book remain the same, producers can continue to charge more and more for tickets as demand never ceases.

You’re probably wondering what on earth this has to do with the University of Warwick. Throughout lockdown last year I wrote a play. On Saturday, my debut play was performed in my next-door neighbour’s garden. It took months of script writing and editing, then casting, blocking and rehearsing, and then we had to turn my patio into an improvised stage space and erect a gazebo to house a socially distanced audience. Schechner was wrong. Sometimes, theatre will take the path of high resistance. Warwick is an incredible place to be for new, creative and ambitious writing and performance projects. Numerous alumni groups have set up successful theatre companies, had their works published and performed across the globe. The pandemic is making things harder, the theatre industry is struggling, but don’t give up. With the right support and determination, theatre can happen anywhere. If it can happen in my next-door neighbour’s garden, it can happen in yours too. As we emerge from the pandemic, lets support local creativity and talent, lets support student theatre. The industry cannot afford not to.

Until next time,

Louis.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Louis Wharton | English and Theatre Studies Contact Louis
Anything! But these are a few particular interests of mine:…
Find out more about me Contact Louis

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