So, George Osborne has had a bad weekend and sadly that means a bad weekend for the UK’s economy. So far 2013 has already seen plenty of closures of major high street names and the downscaling operations of large manufacturers. Now, it would seem that it is the turn of the theatre world as this week it received two major blows: the closures of The Brewhouse in Taunton and The Old Vic Tunnels in Waterloo.
The end of these two performance venues justly has been met with a great deal of shock, sadness and frustration, not just by the artistic community but also the public who engaged with these venues. Although The Brewhouse and Old Vic Tunnels are very different venues closing in very different circumstances, they both served defined communities and offered performance opportunities to young companies, something that we feel particularly passionate about.
Many of you will have enjoyed the subterranean world of The Old Vic Tunnels – the new home of artistic delights below ground following the closure of The Shunt Lounge in 2010. The Shunt Lounge quickly gained cult status and had to work hard to maintain credibility and remain out of the mainstream, with the inevitable result of dying young. We have had the privilege of performing in both spaces. The atmospheric arches were only ever made more exciting by the cold damp air of the Vaults (and potential sightings of rodent life forms). In a full rebellion against formal 600-seat Victorian theatres, these flexible tunnelled spaces gave a real sense of experience that could underpin any performance taking place. It became a rite of passage for any young company who wanted to enter the words “experimental”, “visual” or “emerging” in their mission statement, to perform there. It is clear that the absence of such iconic settings will have a direct impact when trying to support young artists and encouraging young people to engage with theatre in a broader sense.
The Brewhouse is a very different case; a massive resource for Taunton, a large town in a rural county. There is a noticeable difference in the requirements of a venue in a rural setting. Whilst at The Old Vic Tunnels could enjoy the weird and the wonderful, and stay focused on younger theatre makers and goers, The Brewhouse has a much more mainstream programme. It has to serve the middle-class majority, the mothers and babies, the over 65s, as well as the growing immigrant community that exists in Taunton. As a result The Brewhouse is not famed for supporting young artists and therefore its departure from the scene may not appear to have quite the same impact as The Old Vic Tunnels, but we would disagree.
Every year hundreds of young adults flock to London and other major cities to begin their training in the world of theatre. The majority of them will arrive with the memory of a piece of theatre they saw in their home town or a workshop they attended that inspired their desire to perform, direct, design etc. Regional and rural venues are more than just bricks and mortar. For the communities they serve they are the gateway to discovering new art forms and experiences. They are also a fantastic resource for local artists, both in terms of potential support, and development opportunities such as workshops and talks. Surely every person in the country has an equal right to experience the arts, and with regional venues such as The Brewhouse closing down, huge groups of people are having that right taken from them.
We believe art is for all – not just those who are lucky enough to have exciting things happening on their doorstep, or councils which think the arts are a worthwhile investment. Fingers crossed, we’ll still be meeting young people from Taunton and the surrounding area wanting to make and see theatre. But we feel that the real impact will not be seen now, but by the future generations, who might just miss out on that theatre experience that could trigger a lifelong relationship with the arts.