National Theatre of Scotland reviews role due to ‘profound’ challenge of fragile economic climate

The artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) has revealed the organisation is rethinking its role and responsibilities in response to the “profound” challenges facing the country’s stage sector.

Jackie Wylie said NTS was seeking to extend its tours of shows and ensure as many people as possible secured work from coming productions in the face of problems being faced across the board.However, she admitted there were “no easy answers” to what is increasingly being described as Scottish culture’s “perfect storm”.

NTS has unveiled its programme for the next 12 months against a backdrop of concern and anxiety across the theatre sector about reduced audiences since Covid restrictions were lifted earlier this year, rising energy costs and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

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The Federation of Scottish Theatre (FST) recently issued a warning the outlook for the sector was “extremely challenging and likely to worsen”.

National Theatre of Scotland artistic director Jackie Wylie (front row, second from right) with some of artists and creatives working on the company's 2023 shows. Picture: Kirsty Anderson

Holyrood’s culture committee was told of a “real crisis” caused by the pandemic, with some freelancers leaving the industry completely and others losing years of experience as their careers “stalled”.

An official FST report for MSPs said: “It cannot be underestimated how long it will be before income and activity levels can be restored to anywhere close to pre-lockdown levels and ‘full’ recovery is possible.

“This is particularly the case under historic and current standstill funding levels, and what has been further indicated through the spending review in relation to reduced support for culture.

"In September 2021, estimates for recovery suggested between three to five years. The imminent cost crisis will undermine this further and cause devastation on a society-wide scale, affecting individuals and organisations at all levels.”

Jackie Wylie is artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland. Picture: Eoin Carey

NTS’s 2023 programme will see eight major productions – five of them world premieres – go on tour, taking in more than 40 venues, including shows adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and a tribute to comedy legend Sir Billy Connolly.

NTS shows will be visiting His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, East Kilbride Arts Centre, the Lanternhouse in Cumbernauld, Dunoon Burgh Hall, Ballater Highland Games, the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, Mareel in Shetland and the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy.

Ms Wylie said the theatre industry and the performing arts were grappling with some of their “greatest challenges” due to “post-pandemic economic fragility”.

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She said: “It’s undoubtedly an incredibly challenging time, not just for Scottish theatre, but for the whole Scottish cultural sector. There are so many intersecting challenges happening at the same time.

"We’re so alert to these challenges. As we’re a theatre without walls, we’re really reflecting and asking ourselves what our role is.

“I've never known a moment where the sense of challenge is so profound. We all understand the value of culture, which defines us and makes us alive, yet there are no easy answers to the things we’re all facing.

“We’re looking at who we are and what our responsibilities are. We’re trying to make sure our tours are as long as they can be and reaching as many people as they can, in order to provide not just hope for audiences, but also employment and opportunities.

“We don’t have our own building, so touring is what we do. In this moment, we feel an absolute renewed responsibility to get ourselves around the country.”

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