National Future—The next 40 years...

After a reminder that “all predictions of the future are wrong,” Arts Council England’s Director of Theatre Neil Darlison suggested theatre buildings could be becoming irrelevant with the growing number of festivals and site-specific and subversive theatres.

Indeed, the National Theatres of Scotland and Wales don’t have their own theatres. Spending might be better deployed by giving money to artists not to buildings, especially if buildings are not fit for purpose. Work would not have to be in the same theatres in the same places.

Theatres are continuing to pop up without any ACE investment. The future may be already happening if we care to notice it. Capital investment in future might be in buildings with a wider role that you can go into without being a customer with a shift to a less hieratical model of theatre, buildings angled much more to the community.

Town planner Ann Skippers reminded delegates how different planning was 40 years ago in terms of jobs, housing and regeneration but even in 1947 a book on planning was published that devoted a whole chapter to theatres as an essential part of any well–planned community.

We should recognize the value of what we have and make sure every new centre has a theatre for culture as the heart of a lively community.

Cassie Chadderton of UK Theatre, a membership body that supports theatre and performing arts individuals and organisations, saw the priorities for the future as updating buildings, developing a skilled workforce and growing new audiences. Theatre should have a place in the school curriculum. Going to the theatre should become normal, free tickets for young people help to promote this, and theatre can play a part in regeneration—she quoted North Glasgow in evidence. Technical change demands planning for adaptability and we have to fund changes.

In the discussion that followed, it became clear that reduced funding in the current economic situation placed added emphasis on optimum efficiency. How can ACE and the planners contribute to making life better for theatre makers and audiences?

Tim Foster, architect and theatre consultant, drew attention to the fact that when funding was provided as part of the deal for commercial development there was no control over the cultural facilities provided. There should be a guide to producing appropriate buildings.

This year’s conference repeated themes from previous years, emphasising the need to make our theatres places that are open to the community and part of it, to use the premises to create other income. Contributors rarely offered case histories of projects or direct practical guidance in developing initiatives but alerted delegates to the need to deal with rapid change. They looked for more commercial and public partnerships, foresaw an increasing use of found spaces and registered a growing awareness of the impact of new technologies such as virtual reality on theatre.

Looking backwards, the Theatre’s Trust has achieved much since its creation and it remains a vital body for our theatre’s protection and will have an important role as theatre develops and changes to fit the demands of the future.