At the end of 2016 many of us were looking forward to the year ahead with a sense of relief and optimism. Surely 2017 couldn’t match 2016 for seismic political change and social shockwaves?
It was an incident-packed year that, at least to me, went by quickly. But, as the national news was full of stories of us living in separate bubbles and of us leaving a major international union, things couldn’t have been more different for us at UK Theatre.
From my first few days in the role it was evident to me that UK Theatre’s great strength is the voice of its members. Your experiences, your concerns, your advice and your expertise fuels and guides everything we do.
In the last 12 months alone you’ve offered us evidence and concrete examples to make a persuasive case to Government on a number of issues – from business rates to Brexit. You’ve contributed to research and surveys, the results of which help us keep our eyes on the future. And you’ve offered your experience to each other by taking part in conferences and events. Your quick emails or chats are essential in bringing us new developments, ideas and solid evidence to make the case.
Much of the strength of our sector lies in the collaborations and partnerships that make wonderful theatre happen, and so it’s appropriate that some of the things I’ve been most proud of in the last year have been brought about with partners.
Our Live to Digital research was done in partnership with SOLT, and also with Arts Council England. UK Theatre will soon be publishing guidance on how to get started on distributing digitally. We’re looking at a standard agreement for digital rights and fees, and we’re going to explore how to make the most of the fact that we know that those who stream content are younger and more likely to be from BAME backgrounds.
In November we worked with SOLT on research into the theatre and performing arts workforce. The aim of the project is to understand how we can work together as an industry to improve training, skills and development in our sector, and to improve its diversity. Once it’s delivered we can talk to Government and others about the support we will need to continue making such a dynamic contribution to the creative industries.
In partnership with Equity, ITC, LTC and Act for Change, we asked Tonic Theatre to design and test a planning tool to help theatres cast from a broader and more diverse range of people. From March a group of UK Theatre and SOLT members will start using it, and from that we’ll learn how the tool can be improved, and then made available to everyone. In time we’ll also think about whether we can use the same technique to improve diversity through recruitment, or in programming, or for other aspects of our business.
So as this year gets going, and makes signals that it’s not going to be any less challenging than the one before it, I’m confident our shared voice and our partnerships will support us. With our new team in place, UK Theatre has got plenty to address in 2017; maintaining funding and finding new sources of income, keeping the pipeline from schools to our workforce and audiences strong, improving diversity, and negotiating a post-EU landscape in our business and for the audiences we reach.
It’ll be your experiences and ideas that will keep what UK Theatre does relevant and useful, and help us make sure that our sector is as resilient twenty years from now as it is today.