How much is £30,000?
When the lockdown happened, some 1,000 rural touring shows were cancelled, roughly two thirds of the spring season.
Ross McGregor, director of Arrows & Traps Theatre Company, had a similar experience. The company had embarked on its first tour and saw the schedule for Jekyll & Hyde curtailed by three weeks and that of Chaplin: Birth of a Tramp cancelled in its entirety at a combined loss of 38 performances.
Whilst some of NRTF schemes were able to honour up to 100% of fees to the artists, the Arrows & Traps contracts were rendered void, leaving the company with significant a shortfall.
McGregor says a payment from the Arts Council Covid-19 Emergency Fund has been a massive help but debts remain. "The industry is hand-to-mouth at the best of times, the majority of us are freelancers, and there's been little assistance from the government in terms of self-employed grants.
"We don't own a building, we can't take a loan, we don't have staff, and yet we lost thousands of pounds in income that we can't now recoup.
"And it's not just us, of course not. The vast majority of artists have been sent to make Universal Credit applications and told to apply for a Self-Employment fund that will then reduce the Universal Credit payment in the month that we receive it. It's really tough, on everyone."
According to Sonia Friedman's article, it costs £30,000 a week just to keep a West End playhouse closed. Take the Duke of York’s Theatre, with some 620 seats as an example. Put that into an NRTF context and one houseful could be the equivalent of a rural touring show's entire audience and that £30,000 would cover the cost of a smaller sized NRTF show for a whole season. For Arrows & Traps, it is the cost of their enterprise and the span of their risk.
McGregor was kind enough to put some figures on it: "a three- or four-week run in a London space is going to cost around £4,000 to £7,000 to do it properly, and a smallish tour is going to cost between £25,000 and £35,000, so there's a big jump.
"Also with a tour, the costs are upfront—travel, accommodation, equipment, van hire—it's all chargeable before you do the first show, so there's more risk of you being wrong, and losing your shirt—perhaps your entire wardrobe."
Jack artistic director Kate Bannister found herself in the same boat as similar venues, having insurance that pays out in the event of anthrax, cholera, dysentery and yellow fever but, like the rest of us, had never heard of COVID-19 or could have imagined the extent to which it would lay waste the arts industries.
Bannister has been working since the lockdown on rescheduling the shows that had been programmed through to the end of the year. She says, "all the companies want to come back to The Jack so we are looking at rolling over.
"It was a terrific programme of original writing and revivals, bringing some new companies to The Jack and also welcoming back those who we’d worked with before, including So It Goes Theatre and associate company Arrows & Traps.
"Some companies have asked to do the same slots next year, everybody is committed to the work and for a lot of companies it was incredibly heart-breaking to not have their work go on. We're not sure where we are going with late in the year yet because we don’t know what's going to happen, but we are being positive and doing forward planning for next year."
In the meantime, like McGregor and many NRTF artists, they are fundraising and being buoyed by words of encouragement and support. The Jack has been part of its community for 28 years and Bannister, who has been artistic director for more than a decade, has been touched by the messages from its audience.
Going forward, McGregor is clear about the attraction of touring: "it is a very hard and exhausting process, but the principle positive is that you get to bring your work to new audiences and widen your company's profile.
"It's very rewarding and you get to work with some diverse and beautiful venues but it's also a commercial concern; the longest you can run a show for in most London Fringe spaces is three to four weeks which limits ticket sales so it's a way to generate more revenue."
Looking ahead, however, his Jekyll & Hyde adaptation has been mothballed for the time being. McGregor explains this is down to its topicality since it was set around a US election, but he has been able to salvage about 50% of the bookings for Chaplin now on the calendar for April and May 2021.
The same pattern is also true of some NRTF shows which are being rebooked, but the Schemes' support of artists now means they have a reduced budget for the autumn season.