The summer of sport has drawn to a close and we’re sure you’ll agree that despite initial scepticism, it has been a roaring success not just for British athletes but also for the country as a whole.

One of the prevailing opinions in the media is that the Olympic Games and Paralympics unified the nation in a way that British people haven’t experienced for a good ten years. Along with the sporting triumphs of Team GB, this feel good factor has also being attributed to Danny Boyle’s incredible opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony was essentially a celebration of what it is to be British, a performance encompassing everything from the Industrial Revolution to Brookside. The ceremony was everything a good performance should be – entertaining, thought-provoking and emotionally affecting.

It also showcased the power of live performance, in particular the power of theatre. The show enthralled millions of people – 26.9m in the UK alone to be exact – and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Yet this incredible performance was played out against a backdrop of dramatic spending cuts and falling audiences that threaten to damage the UK theatre scene irrevocably.

The austerity measures introduced by the Coalition government have affected a lot of sectors, but the arts were hit particularly hard. In 2011, 15% was cut from the Arts Council budget, while cuts to local council and university budgets also affected arts funding.

While these sorts of cuts haven’t greatly affected huge theatres such as those found in the West End, at a grassroots level it has been quite devastating. According to the Theatres Trust ‘Theatres At Risk’ register, there are currently 49 UK theatres at risk of closure.

The cuts have coincided with a decline in the amount of people going to the theatre – just over one million over the past two years. Again, while large theatre companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company have actually seen audiences increase, it has been the smaller productions that have been hit hardest.

This steady decline in funding and audiences have created a perfect storm that threatens to destabilise Britain’s rich theatrical culture.

From an audience perspective, theatre (along with other forms of live performance such as dance) offers a raw emotional experience that other artistic forms such as cinema struggle to match. The combination of live actors, carefully planned stage lighting design and sound culminate in a unique experience.

Theatre has also acted as a traditional proving ground for budding actors, directors and writers. It’s an environment that, unlike film or television, isn’t necessarily driven by profits or viewing figures. Instead, directors and writers are encouraged to experiment and push the boundaries of their craft. Actors can learn as they work without the pressure of achieving perfection every time.
Theatre also allows technical students to hone their craft using theatre lights or stage sound systems in a professional setting. It offers the first step on the arts ladder for many and to lose that step could potentially deprive us of some extraordinary talent.

The motto of the London 2012 Olympics was ‘inspire a generation’ and much has been made of the games effect on the level of participation in sports. Hopefully, Danny Boyle’s ceremony will also inspire a generation to support theatre at a lower level and encourage young people to get involved in the arts; either through participation or just going to see a show at a local theatre once a month. The ceremony proved that live performance is for everyone – hopefully this message will prove true in the coming years.

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