I spoke to The Sherman Theatre about why supporting the arts is more important now than ever

Arts students we still need you

Pretty much every sector under the sun has been impacted by the pandemic, but arguably the arts have taken the greatest hit. With government bailouts being predictably London-centric, what does this mean for the Welsh culture scene? When massive venues such as the Millennium Centre are set to lose 250 jobs, how will small galleries and independent theatres survive?

The reality is that it’s not just a trip to the local arthouse cinema at stake. According to Gov.UK , the creative industries generated 111.7 billion pounds to the UK economy. The arts are the drive behind our tourist industry because, let’s face it, people don’t visit for the weather.

Local arts centres are a pillar to the community, offering opportunities to young people by giving them a platform and a voice.

So, I spoke to the Sherman Theatre to find out why theatre is so important, and what we should be doing to keep the arts industry afloat.

Do you have any words of advice or reassurance for students training for a career in theatre?

Creative industries have taken a massive hit economically and many of our students are concerned about entering what is already a very competitive jobs market.

The Sherman Theatre said: “There are so many avenues to work in theatre, from performing to stage management to marketing to arts administration. At Sherman, we’re always here to offer advice; our inboxes are always open to provide support and guidance wherever we can.

“Through our work, we are committed to continue supporting emerging theatre makers from or based in Wales. We are doing all we can to ensure that the ecology of the sector remains stable, accessible, and welcoming to anyone who wishes to work within the sector and will continue to do so.”

What value do young performers and creators bring to the industry? What influence can theatre have on young people?

“Young performers and theatre makers bring unparalleled value to the industry, as they present fresh perspectives, new ideas, and bring their own experiences to the table. With our Youth Theatre, we hope to create theatre makers of the future while encouraging participants to become informed, socially responsible citizens.

“Engaging with theatre can help young people to develop confidence, connect with others, build artistic and creative skills, all while enjoying themselves and exploring different perspectives in a supportive environment.”

Why is the accessibility of theatre so important?

“First and foremost, at Sherman Theatre we believe that theatre is for everyone. Attending the theatre should make anyone who wishes to do so feel comfortable, safe, and welcome when enjoying a night in the audience. As a theatre for the people of Cardiff, we work with Welsh and Wales-based theatre makers to create productions which speak to our communities and resonates with them.

“Our work through our Sherman 5 programme, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, allows us to remove barriers which might prohibit people from accessing the theatre. If that barrier is financial, we offer discounted ticket prices. If it is transport, we can support travel. If it is confidence, we have Sherman 5 representatives greeting and welcoming audience members to the theatre. Often it is a combination of barriers, and we strive to ensure that an individual’s needs are met throughout their experience with us. We hope to encourage more people to consider the theatre as something they can access and enjoy, and look forward to welcoming audiences back when we can re-open.”

You are Wales’ first ‘Theatre of Sanctuary’, a haven for refugees and asylum seekers. How do you offer support for these communities?

Sherman Theatre was delighted to be awarded Theatre of Sanctuary Status last November. We work closely with community groups that offer essential support services to individuals seeking sanctuary in our city, to make our theatre a safe and welcoming place for these individuals.

“When our theatre building is open, we are able to offer free tickets for our performances to sanctuary seekers, as well as bespoke activities such as ‘Behind the Scenes’ theatre building tours and workshops with our technical and stage production staff. We have arranged pre- and post-show support and activities for asylum seeker families and can provide transport support. Additionally, we offer free group or individual membership to our Sherman 5 service, opening opportunities for skills exchange, free workshops and membership of the Sherman 5 Advisory group and volunteering opportunities.

“Covid-19 has presented the challenge of engaging with our communities and audiences who cannot currently come into our building and who may have limited Internet access for joining our online activities, or who may require language support in terms of an accompanying translator. In these circumstances our working relationship with the essential community-based wellbeing and social-care groups such as Oasis, Space 4U, The Birth Partner Project and Women Seeking Sanctuary Advisory Group has been the key to being able to get engaging activities like our Theatre in a Box workshop and sending craft kits out to refugee and asylum seeker families.

“We continue to share best practice with, and learn from, other Theatres of Sanctuary across the UK.”

Are you concerned that the economic impact of the pandemic will discourage women and minority voices to enter a career in theatre?

The pandemic has unfortunately forced the theatre to delay the launch of their ‘Unheard Voices’ programme which, according to their website, is a programme “to help ensure unheard voices get heard”.  Its first year will be dedicated to welsh and wales-based women writers.

The Sherman Theatre said: “Unheard Voices will continue when we’re able to safely re-open, as we’re committed to the programme which celebrates female playwrights. Emerging writers we have supported through these projects have included Alexandria Riley, Emily Garside, Emma Cooney, Nia Morais and Mali Ann Rees.

“At Sherman Theatre, we are committed to continue offering opportunities for those seeking a career in theatre and the arts. We hope that, despite the difficult times, writers from all backgrounds can still see the benefit of creating work even if it doesn’t go to the stage: perhaps it’s a radio drama, a monologue, an audio documentary. As a theatre for the community, it’s down to us to keep creating opportunities such as TEN and Heart of Cardiff, to keep encouraging our artists to write and explore themes and topics which are important to them through paid commissions.

“While our doors are closed, we are supporting freelance theatre makers with a range of professional development activities from free workshops to mentor sessions and writer events to help writers take their first steps into the industry. Lockdown or not, we are always here for freelance theatre makers.”

What does the potential closure of theatres in Cardiff mean for the local community?

“Local theatres are a place of escape and connection, where people can learn skills, meet others, and discover local stories. Our Sherman 5 programme is continuing its work within the community work albeit digitally, and we hope our local audiences enjoy the Heart of Cardiff series inspired by our local communities, heroes, and histories. We so look forward to when we can re-open, and would love to see all local theatres re-opening right alongside us.”

What is your biggest concern for the theatre industry and what can communities do to help?

“We know it’s a tough time for everyone and we remain committed to our audiences and artists who have shown us immense support.

“For us, if you can donate we would be incredibly grateful. Otherwise, we would love to see readers of the Tab engaging with our Heart of Cardiff audio theatre experiences! It is incredibly helpful, as it demonstrates the value in the work we’re doing. Listening to the audio dramas, signing up to receive emails, even sharing our news on social media are all brilliant steps you can take to make a difference to us at Sherman Theatre.”

Art centres, such as The Sherman Theatre, provide more than weekly entertainment. Welsh artists range from Grammy and Oscar winners to legendary playwrights and poets. As an arts student, it’s easy to compare yourself to scientists, mathematicians and engineers. You can’t help but wonder if you do “make it”, what impact will you have on the world? It can even be tempting to consider a job in cyber. But while we need those students to survive, we need the arts to live.

So yes, your dream to be the next great film director, poet or painter is valid. But we also need young theatre-goers, avid readers, and art enthusiasts. Students have things to say, we shape the next big thing and shake politics. Let’s make the next trend ‘Save the Arts’.

If you would like to listen to The Sherman Theatre’s podcasts, or perhaps donate,  you can visit their website.

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