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As Kerri Glasscock, Sydney Fringe director and owner of Newtown’s independent Old 505 Theatre sees it, the entire arts sector model is going to have to change to recognise that it’s the little guys who do a lot of the heavy lifting.
“It’s an extremely uncertain time for the independent and the small-to-medium sector, because we’re looking at the unfunded part of the sector, which, let’s be honest, is the bulk of activity that happens in our city. It’s the small live music venues, the tiny theatres, the comedy clubs, where most of us see our entertainment, and they’re going to have a very tough time emerging out of this.”
That’s because they drive creative risk, and that’s going to be an increasingly difficult ask. “We’ve all become accustomed to being able to go out to multiple shows at any night of the week. And the work as audience members see presented in those small venues is underwritten primarily by the artists and the venue.”
Reality is, they’re not going to be able to take as many chances. “With my 505 hat on, when I would program my year ahead, I would normally take a good four or five risks each year. It’s not a financially lucrative industry anyway, but you could weather some of that risk to support work you believe in knowing that, by the end of the year, it would even out on the balance sheet. I’m just not going to be able to do that anymore.”
If the edgier shows don’t happen, we all lose out, Glasscock says. “As far as the health of our sector, and also the creation of our country’s canon, if those indie venues aren’t able to shoulder that risk and invest in new work or work in development, then where does that leave our young artists and our sector?”
That could mean tightening up on refund policy, she suggests. It could also mean less diversity in the shows that do get a run. “It’s a well-known fact in the industry that I can have 60 people in here at the theatre and sell a third of the amount of drinks I would to 60 people seeing live music.”
But it might be the smaller venues that are more able to wear social distancing restrictions, Glasscock notes. “When we run our budgeting master classes at Sydney Fringe for our emerging producers, we recommend they budget on a 30 per cent capacity, so maybe the small spaces can come online quicker, but we still keep coming back to this question around risk. We’re advocating very loudly at Sydney Fringe for a stimulus package that we can disseminate really quickly through to venues and artists, because whilst the NSW government’s $55 million package is incredibly welcome, of course, it’s going to obviously prioritise safeguarding those major companies.”
Written by Stephen A Russell
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