“It won’t just be a case of getting the green light to returning to stage and being recapitalised,” he said. “We actually have a lot of consumer risks over the next 12 months which we don’t feel are addressed.”
The STC is not the only company worried about survival.
“Companies are spending all their reserves now to survive,” said Australian Ballet executive director Libby Christie – reserves built over 20 years of philanthropic donations.
“Not only will our ticket income be compromised for years to come but our capital reserves will all have been used up to get us through this year … We’ll have no insurance against market downturns and we will have no insurance when we risk creative work that may or may not work in our theatres. So it’s a really tricky time for us.”
No company wants to admit financial constraints affect their artistic product. But there are hints the performing arts will become more risk-averse. Melbourne Theatre Company promises a 2021 season “of broad appeal” though also one that is “exciting, challenging and entertaining”.
Co-CEO Virginia Lovett said there would be “added pressure on the box office as we monitor audience confidence in returning”.
“A full recovery may take a number of years,” she said. “As a company, we have had to reassess every program and department to ensure we remain viable. We may need to hibernate some programs for a couple of years and concentrate on the main stage.”
Bell Shakespeare’s artistic director Peter Evans said the company planned a full national program of “popular plays” for 2021.
But Belvoir St Theatre artistic director Eamon Flack said: “If anything, we want to get more adventurous.
“Program more conservatively? Absolutely not,” he said. “It feels like it’s an oppressive time right now – culturally, economically and artistically. The only thing to do is to refuse to buy into that and to get bolder, get more outspoken. Poke more fun and be more spirited and more honest.
“You’ll never get rid of us,” he said. “But what form we will have to take I can’t say.”
Malthouse Theatre artistic director and co-CEO Matthew Lutton, too, said they would be “creating every show on a smaller, tighter budget” but would “absolutely not” program more conservatively.
STC artistic director Kip Williams said they were “looking forward to stretching back into our accustomed full program model”.
The world-wide hammer-blow to the industry will have an impact here, too.
Bethwyn Serow, executive director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, said the “investment pipeline” in commercial theatre and musicals across the globe “has been completely destroyed”.
“A lot of the investment coming into Australia for our major theatre productions comes from offshore, and many of the investors are the same investors who are investing in New York and London,” she told the Senate committee. “We will be last in the line.”
At the Senate hearing, Regional Arts NSW CEO Elizabeth Rogers warned of a mass exodus of arts workers.
“We are not going to be able to keep people in the industry,” she said. “People are leaving already.”
For every star on a stage there are five or six support workers who “can earn a lot more money in the mines and they’ve got wives, families and mortgages to support. This is my biggest fear: the sector is not just [in] a six-month shutdown.”
Chistie said once JobKeeper goes she feared “there will be widespread job losses throughout our sector and it will take decades to rebuild our creative workforce”.
And Merindah Donnelly, executive producer at BlakDance, said artists have been left homeless after being unable to pay their rent.
“These are often very professional dancers… at the top of the game,” she said. “Artists like this are questioning whether they want to continue in the sector.”
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.
Nick Galvin is Arts Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald