The Problem with the Arts Being Run Like a Business.

Anyone with a passion for making performance will tell you that it is their dream to ‘make it’ as a director, performer, producer etc. and we here at Rendered Retina are no different; our dream is to create and perform theatre for a living. However, in the current climate and taking into account all the arts cutbacks made by our ‘loyal’ government, it is increasingly difficult for theatre companies to survive or even get off the ground. The money is still there to be found but companies have to be increasingly business savvy and work a lot harder at the admin side of running a company, starting to take the focus away from the art. This is a debate that arose in a university lecture: should arts companies run themselves more as a business or should the art be the sole focus of a company or practitioner?

I would like to think that I am an idealist, and yes, in an ideal world the art would be the starting and finishing point for all the work of our company, but I am not an idealist so much as I am a realist. In the real world theatre companies can no longer afford to avoid becoming much more business oriented. There is the argument to be made that artists should not sacrifice their artistic integrity just to appease organisations like the Arts Council but on the other hand if you don’t play the game you will have to sacrifice it and work a fulltime job that doesn’t allow any (it is worth noting that this is not something I want).

Businesses have a product and this is no different for theatre companies whose product would be their performances; that is what is created and sold to the public. From those performances you get the money to pay for all the overheads like rehearsal space, set, props, costume and the performer’s wages, but even that revenue is not enough. That is where the Arts Council England comes in, you put in an application for funding that details your production and why they should support it financially and they decide whether or not you deserve the requested funding, so they now also become paying customers. This means companies have to spend many hours putting together an application that is tight enough and persuasive enough to be accepted; the focus therefore being drawn away from the creative process.

More established companies are able to hire administrative staff to deal with this as well as finance managers, but smaller and new companies (such as ourselves) do not have this luxury.

I know this is sounding slightly pessimistic but don’t worry, here comes the uplifting conclusion. I was speaking to some A level theatre students this week and all were worried if there was money to be made in the arts. Some were not sure about what they wanted to do and were unsure if their passion could earn them a living. The advice I gave them proved to be a message to myself: do what you love and throw everything at it, don’t get stuck in a rigid life plan, the money should always be secondary.

What I am saying here in relation to this post is that when we are in the space creating work, that is where the passion lives. If we put our hearts into the theatre we create then it will always be a success because it has been cherished. The more loved the material, the better the theatre and the better the theatre, the more successful it will be. Audiences love to see passion onstage, which I know from being a member of them all my life.

The arts has become a business, but that doesn’t mean it has to feel like one.

Keep it clean, keep it comic.