It does not mean that everything in life is relative

I had been thinking about Lyn Gardner's opinion piece in The Stage suggesting that rural touring could be the quickest route out of lockdown.

By the time I had read it through, it was already too late for Nuffield Southampton Theatres which went into administration in the same week.

And then last weekend when I sat down to write this article, I started to get distracted. First by The Sunday Times Rich List.

The List of course has some household names from the world of theatre, amongst them Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and Cameron Mackintosh with respective worths of £800 million, £155 million and £1.2 billion.

Higher up the list still are less recognisable players who trump this triumvirate, namely producer and promoter John Gore (e.g. Hamilton and Wicked), with a personal wealth of £1.5bn, and Leonard Blavatnik, owner of London's Theatre Royal Haymarket, who is worth an estimated £15.8 billion.

Midweek brought The Guardian's report that Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum, which has lost more than £700,000 due to the COVID lockdown, has had to choose between wholesale staff redundancies to reduce costs or total closure this side of Christmas.

A day later, another distraction still came in the form of Sonia Friedman's piece in The Telegraph. "Arts and cultural organisations have lost 95 per cent of their income" it says. "Theatre has been hit hardest of all. The three-month shutdown has meant £330 million of income lost."

It goes on to say that The National [Theatre] is losing millions every month. I read elsewhere that Mackintosh is said to have lost £40m of personal wealth.

In a way this isn't news at all, it just puts figures on what we already know: that everyone in the theatre industry is and will continue to suffer from the lockdown.

And we don’t need Einstein to tell us that not everything in life is relative. That is something else that we already know.

So, on the one hand, with these monopoly money numbers, it seems unlikely that the Mackintoshes, Lloyd Webbers and Blavatniks of the world don’t have both the financial and critical mass to survive this crisis, personally and in terms of business empire.

On the other hand, how do these Gore-liaths fit with the Davids and do audiences even want big commercial feet trampling over the balanced ecology that is theatre in rural and smaller urban venues as put forward by Gardner?

When I spoke to Holly Lombardo of the National Rural Touring Forum from her carbon neutral office in Berkshire, it gave the notion some perspective.

As director of the NRTF, a membership organisation that advocates for quality arts toured to rural locations across England, Scotland and Wales, she is uniquely placed to talk about audiences who experience theatre on a human scale in the heart of their communities.

These are rural residents facing financial, societal and time barriers to accessing live performance in urban settings, particularly at large institutions in major conurbations. Lombardo explains, "rural touring balances out the opportunities for urban and rural residents.

"The audiences range massively in terms of social demographics so whilst they can be of an older profile which reflects an aging countryside population, work also goes into areas of huge deprivation with younger audiences."

And although it has a reputation for performing in village halls, rural touring is very much more than that with a recent increase in the use of libraries, pubs and outdoor spaces.

In NRTF-speak, the people who run those spaces are known as promoters; they select a programme of events offered by schemes who vet shows for quality control and schedule tours according to take-up, usually around a spring and autumn season.

To ensure a range of work is available, schemes will subsidise productions and promoters, schemes and companies will work together creating shows that are suitable for spaces which are unraked, can have challenging sightlines and vary in seating capacity from 40 to 200.