Theatre 2016 Conference Report
Catch up with the key issues raised at the Theatre 2016 Conference in this report published by Bon Culture in partnership with The Stage and John Good.
Introduction by David Brownlee and Mari O'Neill
When we first started planning Theatre 2016 we couldn't believe that there hadn't been a major industry-wide conference for a decade and really thought there needed to be. After the event we're even more convinced that this complex industry needs to work more effectively together if it is going to sustain and build on its current success.
Working with 13 industry bodies to mount a two day conference across three West End venues was always an ambitious undertaking. It wouldn't have been possible without the enthusiastic support of seven sponsors and the generosity of the owners and managers of the venues. We learn a lot from managing the event and the feedback of those who attended and there are certainly things we'd do differently in the future.
The key issues and high quality contributions were brilliantly captured in the coverage of our media partner, The Stage. This conference report distils and enhances their coverage of two days of lively, passionate and informed debate. Theatre must adapt to thrive in a United Kingdom where demographics and levels of public funding are changing rapidly. Theatre has a massive potential role in helping society to explore key national and international issues, yet at the same time artistic censorship and self-censorship is a bigger issue than it has been for half a century.
With subsidised places thanks to funding from Creative Scotland and Arts Council England, over 600 delegates and contributors from all parts of the theatre industry considered these and other issues together, much of the time reaching consensus but also highlighting some of the tensions and disagreements in a complex ecology.
While Theatre 2016 reminded us just how popular the art form is in our nation of supposed football-lovers, it also reflected how the sector is failing to reflect the UK's growing diversity in either its workforce or audience. In his rousing speech (published in full within this report), Samuel West stated:
'A theatre is not its artistic leadership, or even its building. A theatre is its audience, and the bigger and more diverse the audience, the healthier the theatre.'
It's not that the industry hasn't tried to change but, as more than one speaker noted, the diversity of the UK population was not reflected in the demographics of delegates, just as (with notable exceptions) the audiences in theatres around the UK fail to reflect the population. Why?