theatre seats

Arts funding shake-up will be “devastating for new playwriting”

The recent announcement of an overhaul to arts funding in England poses an existential threat to new playwriting commissions and could lead to risk-averse programming, WGGB has warned.

The announcement on Friday 4 November 2022 saw details of a new year three-year funding settlement for Arts Council England (ACE) with a focus on ‘levelling up’ investment in the regions and promoting diversity and inclusion in the arts.

While the WGGB Theatre Committee supports an equitable funding model, the announcement will severely impact London venues, with theatres and companies such as the Hampstead Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, The Gate Theatre and Stockroom seeing their funding cut entirely. Others, such as the National Theatre, will see a decrease in their current funding.

It also fears the changes will come as a hammer blow to many theatres, who were disproportionately affected by a series of lockdowns during the pandemic, and who are now battling soaring inflation and a rise in energy and other costs.

From the outset of the pandemic WGGB campaigned and lobbied on behalf of playwrights, as they saw their incomes fall by 40% and many fell through gaps in Government financial support packages for the self-employed.

WGGB’s New Play Commission Scheme (NPCS) was our response to this crisis. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and in partnership with a number of organisations in the sector, it ensured 18 new commissions for playwrights in England.

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said:

“We know that when the money dries up, so do new commissions for playwrights. Theatres who are losing their funding, or seeing a decrease, will inevitably be able to invest much less in new original work and may well become more risk averse in their programming, which is exactly what we saw with Covid, when sustained theatre closures saw revenues drop dramatically.

“Even for theatres which will see increased funding, the current economic crisis presents an incredible challenge and we are concerned this will be devastating for new playwriting and will pose a broader existential threat to playwrights’ livelihoods, to new play commissions and to the overall health of the sector.

“We will be talking urgently to Arts Council England, working with our industry partners and sister unions and continuing our lobbying work with Government to advocate for playwrights and the importance of new writing.”