Double blow from Wiltshire Creative

THEATRE and performing arts audiences and supporters in Wiltshire heard the sad news at the end of July that Wiltshire Creative was beginning redundancy consultations with staff, and that the Salisbury Playhouse pantomime was being postponed to 2021.

In a statement, marketing and communication manager Tim Croall, said that the staff had been advised that redundancy consultations would “begin shortly as a direct impact of the Covid-19 closure, which has reduced the organisation’s earned income by 92 per cent. Sadly, approximately 40 per cent of jobs could be at risk.”

Salisbury Arts Centre and Salisbury Playhouse were obliged to close to the public in March, with major productions of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Hay Fever cancelled. The 2020 Salisbury International Arts Festival was also cancelled.

Tim says: “There is currently no government guidance as to when the venues will be able to fully re-open to capacity audiences without social distancing, which has also led to the very disappointing decision to postpone this year’s Christmas pantomime Cinderella.

“These factors, along with research providing evidence of a reluctance of audiences to return in significant numbers for the foreseeable future, have led to the unavoidable decision to restructure and reduce the workforce, in line with activity being scaled back to protect the future of the organisation.”

Wiltshire Creative chairman Tim Crarer says: “As an arts charity that relies on audiences coming through our doors, buying tickets, drinks and ice creams, along with fundraising and venue hire, the closure of our buildings and cancellation of all activity has had a devastating effect on our financial position. Despite this, we have done everything possible to protect jobs for as long as possible, including furloughing many staff and honouring contracts with companies and freelancers who were due to work with us.

“The trustees have explored all options but have now concluded that this is the only way to give the organisation the best chance of survival. We are all devastated, but this is an inevitable result of the crisis. Our primary focus now is a duty of care to all our loyal, skilled and committed staff at what is a very difficult time. The sad reality is that most arts organisations are in similar positions.”

Planning for the pantomime had continued throughout lockdown and work should now be starting on set-building, making costumes, casting and promoting the show, says Tim Croall: “However, with no specific government guidance as to when Salisbury Playhouse can safely re-open to capacity audiences, the risk would be too great to continue with this work. More than 4,000 tickets have already been sold for the six-week run and it is now hoped to stage Cinderella in 2021.”

Salisbury Playhouse’s home-produced show is one of the most successful pantomimes in the country, attracting more than 25,000 people from across the region. In 2018 the production of Jack and the Beanstalk won a Great British Pantomime Award.

Gareth Machin, artistic director of Wiltshire Creative and director of Cinderella, says: “It is devastating not to be able to present a pantomime at Salisbury Playhouse this Christmas. We know that our loyal audiences will be very disappointed and I know that it is equally disappointing for our dedicated colleagues and volunteers who would be working on the production. We will do everything possible to make sure that the production can happen next year.”

Wiltshire Creative is working on plans for a phased re-opening of the Playhouse and Salisbury Arts Centre, as well as other projects outside its venues, beginning this autumn, working within current government and industry guidelines. It is hoped that this will include some Christmas entertainment.

Wiltshire Creative is one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations and one of the largest in the South of England, with an annual turnover of £4.7 million.

No final decision on redundancies will be made until the consultation process is complete. Meanwhile, donations can be made via the Wiltshire Creative website at www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk

Ticket holders for Cinderella this Christmas need not do anything, as Wiltshire Creative will be in touch over the coming weeks with their options. They are asked not to contact Wiltshire Creative directly.

Pictured: A scene from the award-winning 2018 pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk.