Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the West End producer of Les Misérables and Hamilton, has made about 200 employees redundant in the latest blow to the theatre industry.
Mackintosh, one of British theatre’s most important figures, has joined a long list of UK performing arts companies that have made swingeing cuts to workforces because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesperson for his operations said a redundancy process announced in June had been completed and staff had been notified. They declined to give a number, but it is believed to be about 200.
The spokesperson added: “It is a very sad time for everyone affected by this thankless situation one we could never have imagined would have been forced on the industry.”
Mackintosh, who owns eight West End theatres, has previously complained that there had no “tangible, practical support” from the government “beyond offers to go into debt”.
Theatres, performance spaces and concert halls closed in March, and most people in the industry cannot see them reopening fully until 2021.
The government did announce on Friday that theatres and venues would be able to reopen from Saturday to indoor performances with socially distanced audiences.
That gives the green light to organisations who already have plans. They include the National Theatre, reopening in October with a sequel to Death of England, and London’s Bridge theatre, selling 250 tickets for its 900-seat space for a season of monologues including one by David Hare on his experience of Covid-19 and his anger at the government’s handling of the crisis.
Snape Maltings in Suffolk will be one of the the first concert halls to reopen on 21 August.
Roger Wright, chief executive of Britten Pears Arts, the charity that runs Snape Maltings, said they were fortunate, as people had to drive, cycle or walk to get there. “We have a large amount of space and fresh air, making it relatively straightforward to offer the necessary distance for the public,” he added.
“As one of the first music venues and organisations to pilot a return to indoor concerts, we are aiming to help build confidence again in the presentation of live events and will share our learnings with colleagues in the music sector.”
The problem for most organisations is that reopening for socially distanced audiences will not make money, and many are already burning through reserves. In the West End, with its tiny bars and narrow corridors, it is more or less impossible.
Last month, the government announced a £1.57bn arts recovery package, but that money is primarily aimed at the survival of buildings and organisations – it is not meant to save the jobs of workers. Employers say they have a choice: make redundancies or go bankrupt.
Jobs are being lost everywhere. Ambassador Theatre Group, one of the biggest employers in British theatre, has announced that it will lay off 1,200 casual staff in September. The Southbank Centre and the National Theatre have announced the loss of 400 jobs each.
The union Bectu has calculated that UK theatre job losses jumped from 3,000 to 5,000 in July alone. It predicted a “tsunami” of further redundancies.
Some of the biggest arts organisations will not be eligible for grants but instead have to apply for loans from a £270m pot. They can repay the loans over 20 years with an initial repayment holiday of up to four years and a 2% interest rate per annum.
Newly published criteria for success include demonstrating that “efficiencies” have already been made. Organisations will also need to demonstrate national or international significance and opportunities to engage their local communities through education and outreach.
Writing in the Guardian, the National Theatre’s artistic director, Rufus Norris, said redundancies were a “harsh and unavoidable pain”. But he also spoke of the importance of continuing to create work for audiences, commissioning writers and employing freelance artists, rather than leaving buildings to be mothballed during the pandemic.
“For every theatre to remain inactive until the storm passes brings unconscionable risks of its own,” he writes. “We will lose our freelance workforce with its irreplaceable talent and skill, we will lose the progress we have made on diversity.”