There has been a lot of talk recently about ‘viability’ in the arts. It’s sad to say – but this feels like nothing new to us. If you don’t fit into the pre-conceived model of what an organisation ‘should’ look like, then you often get told it won’t work. Teatro Vivo doesn’t fit the mould: We don’t work in theatres, we don’t have a building or office space, we make high quality work with local people working alongside excellent professional performers, who return to work with us again and again. We were told by an expensive ‘theatre consultant’ several years ago that if we weren’t making a certain amount of money as a company in a year’s time we should give up, as if that were the only measure of success, rather than quality of work produced, audiences reached, impact on individuals and communities. And yet, nearly a decade later, here we still are.

The system then, and sadly today, only values the arts in terms of the long-term economic value it can give.

We make professional quality theatre for and with local communities. We are never going to make our fortunes doing it, but that’s not the point. We do ensure that everyone is paid professional rates for their work (even if that means we have to turn down doing shows for larger institutions who offer laughably low amounts of money). We still have to fight for everyone to be paid properly. That is mostly because the ‘gatekeepers’ of theatres are full time employees who do not understand how much it costs to employ freelancers on a show, or who expect small companies to magically have people on a payroll to do work at a reduced rate. And this kind of thought trickles up to producers, funders and (so it seems) to government ministers. This leaves the actual makers of the art at the bottom of the pile when it comes to getting paid, behind administrators, managers, executives, accountants and just about everybody else involved in the industry! It’s telling that the recent £1.5 billion rescue fund for the Arts had a focus on running buildings or covering organisations overheads, not on making actual work. Has nobody thought about what will happen to our shiny buildings when the pandemic is over, if there are no artists left to make work in them?

One of the positives of the pandemic has been the coming together of freelancers to have their voice heard in all the debate that is going on, and some large theatre institutions to publicly value that part of the theatre making world. We’re pretty thick-skinned in the theatre world – all of us have had family members question why we’re doing something so precarious and badly paid, but it feels maddening in the middle of all that is going on that we still have to keep reminding the government that culture is important, that singing songs together helps people feel better, that experiencing performances together makes connections between people that overrides politics, and that, yes, art can be  dangerous and can make us reflect on ourselves and society. But surely that is a society we want to strive for, not one that we see as unviable.

Mark Stevenson

Joint Artistic Director

Teatro Vivo