CALLS to avoid a Shakespearean tragedy have been made to the government from the Bard’s home town.
Councillors have sent an open letter this week to culture secretary Oliver Dowden demanding urgent action to support the Royal Shakespeare Company and other local arts and culture organisations through the pandemic.
The letter, signed by all town, district and county councillors, reads: “As the country gradually emerges from lockdown, choices and decisions are being made which will impact on local economies and residents across the country.
“In Stratford-upon-Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company is not only an internationally recognised leading theatre company, but is also a key element of the town’s economy, the wider economy of Stratford on Avon District and indeed across Warwickshire.
“It is now widely reported that Stratford on Avon is the fourth most heavily economically impacted district in the country.
“Shakespeare’s voice and words, worth over £500million to the local economy, are estimated to bring in seven million visitors annually and supports over nine thousand jobs in the area.
“As the elected councillors representing the residents of Stratford-upon-Avon, we are deeply concerned that the future viability of this ‘world beating’ iconic theatre is now at risk. We are also concerned about the future of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
“We are united in our desire to work together to ensure that every possible effort and opportunity is being taken to ensure that the RSC is fully supported through this crisis and that government similarly provides both the necessary financial and strategic support to ensure that the unthinkable does not, cannot happen.
“Tourism and culture are a vital part of Coventry and Warwickshire’s economy and ahead of Coventry being UK City of Culture 2021 will mean even more visitors will be heading to Shakespeare’s England and Stratford-upon-Avon.
“We appreciate that there are in all probability intense discussions and activity taking place at many different levels and are hopeful that positive proposals will shortly come forward.
“The potential for a Shakespearean tragedy looms large and must be avoided.”
The RSC has postponed all performances for the rest of the year. The virus had prompted the Stratford-based company to initially postpone productions until the end of June, but the “difficult decision” was taken a month ago to cancel all of the planned programme for 2020.
The company’s artistic director Gregory Doran has called the situation “really serious”.
He added: “Many theatres are on the edge of closure. And I don’t want anyone to be in any doubt, we at the RSC are in a very vulnerable position, and we need government help.”
The RSC has been forced to terminate contracts and furlough 90 per cent of staff as it continues to explore “every possibility” to secure income.
Mr Doran, in a joint statement with RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon, thanked the government, donors and audiences for support so far but added the charity needed more help.
They added: “To secure the future of the RSC for everyone we need financial support until we can start earning our own income again as our reserves will not last indefinitely.”