Sheffield Theatres 'fighting for our future' with 29% of roles at risk

  • The organisation – which comprises the Lyceum, Studio and Crucible theatres – will not fully reopen until spring 2021
  • York Theatre Royal also begins redundancy consultations

Sheffield Theatres has entered redundancy consultations that could result in 29% of roles being lost. All staff have also been asked to reduce their hours as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

The organisation, which comprises three venues, will not fully reopen until spring in 2021. Its Lyceum and Studio theatres will remain closed, but the Crucible will be used for a pop-up arts festival this autumn and, before then, as a pilot venue for “elite sporting events” with a reduced, socially distanced audience for the World Snooker Championship.

In a statement, Dan Bates, chief executive of Sheffield Theatres, said: “We have had to take some heart-breaking decisions to enable us to navigate the devastating impact of Covid-19.” When theatres around the UK closed on 16 March, Sheffield Theatres “lost all income overnight”, said Bates. “Though the government has announced that theatres are able to reopen to socially distanced audiences in August, we are still awaiting detail on this. Equally, we don’t have confirmation of when we could reopen to full audiences – a vitally important step in us being able to operate effectively.”

Bates said that the £675,000 it was recently awarded from Arts Council England’s emergency funding would sustain the organisation until September, and that the team hoped to apply for some of the government’s £1.57bn arts rescue package.

Last week, the government gave the go-ahead to theatres in England to host socially distanced performances from 1 August. The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the plan, which is the fourth stage of the government’s five-step plan for reopening arts venues, was a “welcome step in the path to a return to normal”. But Bates said that opening over winter, a usually lucrative period for theatres thanks to the popularity of panto, would not be financially viable with a socially distanced audience. Sheffield’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, has been postponed until next year. Even with permission to reopen, theatres will have to wait for customer confidence to return, warned Bates, and the organisation could not afford the financial risk of reopening and then having to close down again if there was a local or national lockdown.

On Monday, impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber told the BBC that theatre is “not economically possible” with social distancing measures, and called on “clarity and consistency” from the government.

Bates praised the passion and dedication of his staff, saying: “We have done everything we could to protect everyone’s jobs for as long as possible. However, we have had to make this agonising decision to secure the long-term future of the theatres.”

The previously announced Shakespeare to Sheffield outdoor performances will still go ahead, and there will be a “pop-up panto” event in the Crucible. “We are not sitting back,” said Bates, “we are fighting for our future”.

On Tuesday, York Theatre Royal also announced that it is entering into redundancy consultations. Its executive director, Tom Bird, said “some very difficult decisions” would have to be made. “Since 1744 the people of York have enjoyed, supported and celebrated this theatre,” said Bird. “It is our job, as custodians of this great community asset, to do whatever we can to ensure its survival for the people of our city.”


Chris Wiegand

The GuardianTramp

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