Unions accuse “Big Six” venues of putting jobs at risk and endangering future of Scottish theatre

Theatres condemned for “territorial behaviour” and “discredited thinking”
The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Picture: Eamonn McGoldrickThe Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Picture: Eamonn McGoldrick
The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Picture: Eamonn McGoldrick

Leading Scottish theatres are being accused of putting jobs at risk and endangering the future of the entire sector by proposing they share resources and create their own company to launch new productions.

The Scottish Society of Playwrights and the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu) has criticised the “myopic” six venues who have pledged to join forces for their “territorial behaviour” and “discredited thinking” in a new survival plan.

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New research commissioned by Dundee Rep, the Citizens and Tron theatres in Glasgow, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, and the Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres in Edinburgh warned of an urgent need to take action to address a “perfect storm” of declining audiences, rising costs, real-terms funding cuts and an industry-wide recruitment crisis.

Isobel McArthur wrote Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) and starred in the Tron Theatre show alongside Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Christina Gordon, Tori Burgess and Meghan Tyler. Picture: Matt CrockettIsobel McArthur wrote Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) and starred in the Tron Theatre show alongside Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Christina Gordon, Tori Burgess and Meghan Tyler. Picture: Matt Crockett
Isobel McArthur wrote Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) and starred in the Tron Theatre show alongside Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Christina Gordon, Tori Burgess and Meghan Tyler. Picture: Matt Crockett

The “Disappearing Act?” report on Scotland’s six main producing theatres revealed that the venues were responsible for just 15 per cent of theatre ticket sales in Scotland, even though four in 10 Scottish households were found to be theatre-goers.

The research on the work of the theatres, which was carried out by consultants Date Culture Change and funded by Scottish Government arts agency Creative Scotland, warns: “No change is not an option.”

The six theatres have thrown their weight behind key recommendations aimed at heading off the risk of any venues having to shut, including closer collaboration, sharing resources and creating a new company to “maximise” the chances of developing hit shows with a “wow factor” that have the potential to tour outside Scotland.

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It is hoped that the proposed new company, which is planned to be led by an “experienced commercial theatre producer,” will launch up to three major touring productions a year, with any profits expected to be divided between the six theatres.In a statement, the Scottish Society of Playwrights said: “We’re concerned by the lack of detail surrounding the aspiration to ‘share resources’ across companies. Along with partner unions, will be seeking clarity on how this might operate, and what cuts or job losses could result.

The cast of a recent production of the hit musical Sunshine On Leith, which started life at Dundee Rep. Picture: Greg MacveanThe cast of a recent production of the hit musical Sunshine On Leith, which started life at Dundee Rep. Picture: Greg Macvean
The cast of a recent production of the hit musical Sunshine On Leith, which started life at Dundee Rep. Picture: Greg Macvean

“Territorial behaviour in a sector under such pressure would be a dangerous sign, We operate in a culture now of grabbing slices of the same diminishing cake, and of self-defence.

"While the aim of rescuing a future for homegrown productions in Scotland is to be lauded, the model proposed could be perceived as a territorial and fiscal land-grab by the powers-that-be within the "Big Six.”

“It may well be that they have now set the ball rolling, but their yell of alarm proceeds from the sector as a whole – from audiences, from regional venues and producing companies, and even from the National Theatre of Scotland. We should be looking for holistic rather than segregated solutions to the creative recovery of our sector.”

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Bectu negotiations officer Paul McManus said: “Over the past two years and more, Bectu has been clear that many theatre workers are at breaking point. The Covid lockdowns were the final straw in driving skilled workers away in huge numbers due to historically low wages and poor job security.

“The priority for any future funding must be to significantly improve wage levels across all Scottish theatres and address job insecurity.

“The announcement of a proposed new producing company has created a great deal of concern for members, as it appears to suggest that greater casualisation and driving down costs is the way to deliver a successful venture.

"That is the type of discredited thinking that only delivered year-on-year erosion of the industry before lockdown, and will not deliver any bright new future for producing theatre in Scotland.

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“We will be meeting the employers behind this proposal in the coming weeks to seek cast iron guarantees of no redundancies, and reassurances that if this venture goes ahead then it will operate on the basis of properly paid, permanent employment.”

A spokeswoman for the six theatre venues said: “This report is a catalyst for the start of discussions, with a range of stakeholders, about how to use its findings and recommendations to find ways forward for a more sustainable producing theatre sector in Scotland.

“There is no suggestion in the report of a ‘replacement’ of producing theatres.

“Instead, the report recommends a strategy for growth: both increasing market share in Scotland and increasing the amount of Scottish-made theatre being performed elsewhere.

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"We hope all our partners and stakeholders understand our desire to find solutions that are both fair and sustainable and we look forward to discussing the report’s recommendations with them in the coming months.”