Blog: Theatres Fit for the Future

What will the ‘new post-Covid normal’ look like and what does this mean for the way we design, adapt and run theatres? Theatres Trust Director Jon Morgan introduces the topics being discussed at Conference 22.

It would be tempting as we emerge from the upheaval of the last two years to imagine theatres returning to normal. However, much as that may seem an attractive prospect is it realistic or even desirable?

There are so many disruptive factors precipitated by the pandemic that have yet to settle down, from audience demand, demographics and behaviours, to the implications of hybrid working, to changing production and touring models and the future role of digital, not to mention the very challenging economic and funding environment.

Additionally, Covid threw a stark light on many aspects of how the theatre sector operates that are inequitable, ranging from the precarious experience of the thousands of freelancers our industry relies on, through to racism, the challenges for disabled people returning to theatres and other exclusionary practices, and the pressing need to address the climate emergency. So even if we could return to ‘normal’, why would we?

The good news is that many in the sector are aware of and engaged with understanding and attempting to address these vital issues for the future of our theatres. At Conference 22: Theatres Fit for the Future, on 11 October at Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, we will bring together a mix of inspiring speakers and case studies, alongside opportunities for discussion and sharing of best practice, to help us understand what the future landscape will be, what we want it to be, and how we can best make sure our theatres are fit for the future.

We will hear from theatres that are exploring new business models to ensure they not only survive but thrive in this new environment, looking at how they are generating new income streams, finding different ways to engage with their audiences and communities and developing partnership approaches to increase resilience and impact.

Architects and practitioners will help us imagine what a truly inclusive theatre, one that takes account of everyone’s access and cultural needs, might look like. Theatre operators will share their innovative practice to ensure they are welcoming to all, with schemes such as ‘pay what you can’ and relaxed performances, they will help us understand how they listened to and responded to the needs of their different communities.

We will also return to sustainability, the theme of last year’s conference, which generated a lot of positive feedback, including the need to continue to address this issue. We will hear about the latest developments on the Theatre Green Book, including the recently released Home Survey Tool which will greatly help theatre operators create a bespoke, prioritised plan for interventions that will reduce their building’s carbon emissions. Theatres will also share their experience of investing in carbon reduction measures and the challenges, opportunities and energy saving benefits.

Looking at the wider political and social context, the Levelling Up agenda, greater devolution and the trend towards greater localism, with the concept of 15 minute neighbourhoods and the working from home revolution, all point towards an enhanced role for theatres as part of placemaking. A range of speakers will help to unpick these phenomena and explore how in both strategic and practical ways theatres contribute to and can benefit from these trends.

There is no doubt that theatres are not ‘out of the woods’ post-pandemic and we face many challenges. But there is a great will and a huge amount of creative energy in the sector to find solutions to make sure our theatres not only come back, but come back better.

We are keen to include as many voices in the conference as possible so our delegate rates are lower than at our last pre-pandemic conference and we will also be building on the success of our previous bursary scheme to offer more free places to smaller theatres, freelancers and students, thanks to the support of sponsors Avison Young, Delfont Mackintosh Theatres and Trafalgar Theatres.

I hope you will also want to contribute to these vital conversations so we can collectively ensure our theatres are fit for the future.

Find out more about Conference 22: Theatres Fit for the Future.