Matthew Camping directing

Matthew Campling on Theatre’s New Gallipoli

Matthew Campling MA is a psychotherapist, writer and playwright. Here he shares his thoughts on the state of theatre, the pandemic and the future. 

I’m thinking of those creatives who have to do other jobs to support their passion for live work, who live in one room and treat every day in the theatre as a holiday because they can’t afford the real thing.  After the shock of adjusting to the new normal, all these artists are struggling with a new adversary in what was already an unfair and overwhelming fight.  It’s not enough that we have to find thousands of pounds to put on a fringe show (if we’re paying the actors/technical and why should they work for free?), meet rising theatre costs, find money for marketing and publicity, attract an audience when there are so many other attractions and suck up ignorant, incompetent and incoherent reviews.

This new negative – social distancing – might finally kill off live theatre.  (I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – just a probably insurmountable extra negative).  As a writer/producer working on my own, I was heartily disheartened to read of Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s warning that the industry needs to find ‘new and innovative ways’ to return.  Why isn’t he coming up with these ways?  He’s got staff and resources, we’re all living on the smell of an oil rag.  I’m always saving to have the money to produce theatre.  I’ve produced 7 of my 11 plays and it has always been next to impossible.  I’ve now put down deposits on two fringe theatres for my next play but who knows what will happen and where that money will go.  Frankly I can’t think of any new and innovative ways because theatre costs so much to produce we rely on filling the rows of seats.  The idea that, with social distancing, say 12 people per performance can make theatre financially viable is of course concerning.  It was never intended to function like that.  Social distancing may be the profession’s Gallipoli (i.e. a complete, unsalvageable disaster).

Matthew CampingI’ve just read a charming book ‘Exit Through the Fireplace: The Great Days of Rep’ which makes the point that theatre is a community resource.  Is that where we look?   Rather than frighten off potential audiences we ask the community to support us in this unforeseen time.  Certainly it shouldn’t be the producers and creatives who have to solve the curse of social distancing.  Theatre belongs to the people and the people are now being asked to help the profession survive.  So any new and innovative ideas would be welcome.

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Twitter @camplinghicks