This is a snapshot of a post. It’s the product of an hour or two of research, and I’ll probably come back to the topic soon, and in more detail. For now, here’s a sketch of an infuriating situation.
I always knew that theatres in the English speaking world in general, and in Canada in particular, operate under very different conditions than companies in my country of birth, Germany. But until today, I didn’t really understand just how astonishingly huge those differences are. Prompted by an article in the Guardian, in which Lyn Gardner argued that Shakespeare was over-subsidized in the UK, was, indeed, the “most subsidised playwright in the world,” I decided to look into public funding for theatres elsewhere “in the world.”
Gardner’s claim for Shakespeare’s unparalleled government support rests on the £16 million annual subsidy the Royal Shakespeare Company receives (roughly £14 million of which come from the Arts Council); we might add the National Theatre into the mix, since they also stage his plays with some frequency — that’s roughly another £19 million. Overall, in 2011/12,the Arts Council of England supported theatres to the tune of around £100 million — more or less 50% of their operating costs, or £8.29 per ticket sold. Shakespeare takes up a significant chunk of that, but I’m not really interested in that issue per se. The overall figure is what matters to me: £100 million pounds, nationwide. 16 theatres received more than £1 million.
Now compare this with what’s going on in Germany.
In 2009/10 (the most recent data I could find), 140 companies received 2.17 billion Euros in federal, state, and municipal subsidies, while making just under 500 million Euros in ticket sales. In other words, state funding covered over 80% of their operating costs, to the tune of 109 Euros per ticket sold.
Now, to be fair, those figures include all kinds of performance venues and genres, opera houses and orchestras as well as theatres. Looking at the Arts Council statistics from a similarly broad perspective brings the two funding systems into slightly closer alignment: with c. £278 million of support (about 350 million Euros), England spends about 16% as much as Germany on its performance artists. To put all of this into perspective another way, the Donmar Warehouse, one of London’s most innovative and consistently successful not-for-profit theatres, received around half a million pounds this year from the Arts Council. The local theatre in my small hometown in Northern Bavaria received just under a million Euros from the Bavarian government in 2010 — and it was among the two or three least well-funded theatres in the entire state.
This kind of funding naturally makes theatre accessible. Across all performance genres, the average ticket price in Germany hovered around 25 Euros — but that’s including opera tickets. Theatre tickets can always be had for under 20 Euros. Attendance varies widely from region to region, but in the major cities, traditional theatres average houses well over 70%. In 2009/10, over 5 million individuals saw a traditional play, while over 4 million people went to an opera performance.
As importantly, such funding also provides jobs for artists — over 2000 actors were employed by German theatres in 2009/10 (not counting the many thousands of singers, dancers, and chorus members). And a well-funded theatre system is an engine of creativity: that year alone saw over 1400 new professional productions of plays, 72 in Berlin alone. Of course that’s only a fraction of the overall number of productions, with remounts accounting for a significantly larger number. And none of these figures include for-profit stages or fringe theatre companies.
So that’s what theatrical paradise looks like.
And then I thought I’d have a quick look at the three main funding bodies Toronto theatres rely on, the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council. Here’s what I found (I know this will be old news to many readers. I, however, was gobsmacked):
Canada Council operating support for professional theatre organizations in Canada in 2010: $22 million.
For over 180 companies. That’s an average of just over 120,000 per organization. Stratford is the only company that breaks the million-dollar barrier, but only just. CanStage gets just over half a million dollars (hey, not much less than the Donmar!).
And if you’re in Toronto, there was another $2.5 million available for theatre organizations in 2010 — 95 of them — plus another million or so for “large institutions” (basically CanStage, the Harbourfront Centre, and Soulpepper). The only adult company receiving more than $200,000 from the TAC was CanStage.
To sum up: Arts Council England funding for theatre — £100 million, or about CAN$156 million. German public funding for performance arts: 2.17 billion Euros, or about CAN$2.7 billion. Canada Council funding for performance arts (including dance and music): CAN$54 million, $22 million of which goes to theatre companies. And funding for Toronto theatre: $11 million.
Put another way, England (not the UK) spends about $8 per capita on all the performing arts; Germany well over $30. In Berlin, with a population of 3.5 million, public funds of over $61 per capita are invested in the performing arts. In Toronto, with a population of over 2.6 million, just over $8.5 per capita are available for the same sector. In London, around £44 million in public funds are invested in running theatre companies — about £5.9 per capita (just over CAN$9). In Toronto, it’s less than half that much, just over $4.2.
So the next time I wonder why we can’t have nice things — fully employed actors; well-equipped performance spaces; freedom to experiment; adequate rehearsal periods; a rich, varied, and comprehensive repertory; a public able to afford theatre tickets — I will, sadly, remember the answer. Nice things cost money. Not exorbitant amounts of money (one or two fewer fighter jets would make all the difference). But still, apparently, too much.
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- The Changeling (Middleton & Rowley; dir. Jackie Maxwell) Stratford, July 2017
- How to Kill a Great Theatre: The Tragedy of the Volksbühne
- Three Sisters (Chekhov/Stone; dir. Simon Stone) Theater Basel/Theatertreffen, May 2017
- British Theatre under the Influence (of much more than The Roman Tragedies)
- Hamlet (Shakespeare; dir. Robert Icke) Almeida, London; Mar. 2017
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Holger Syme's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Images may be reused as long as their source is properly attributed in accordance with the Creative Commons License detailed above. Many of the photos here were taken at the Folger Shakespeare Library; please consult their policy on digital images as well.