Theatre is at the “point of no return” following damage from the coronavirus pandemic, Lord Lloyd-Webber has said in an interview with the BBC.
The composer said that it would be financially “impossible” to run live theatrical productions with social distancing measures in place.
“We simply have to get our arts sector back open and running,” he told the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee.
We are at the point of no return.
Lord Lloyd-Webber recently staged a concert at the London Palladium as an experiment to see whether socially-distanced performances would be viable.
It is reported that he spent £100,000 ($179,669AUD) on the project in hopes that he could create a blueprint to help get theatres up and running again during the current crisis.
He hoped to prove that theatres could open safely at full capacity. However, the concert had to take place with hundreds of empty seats to comply with the government’s social distancing guidelines.
There comes a point now when we really can’t go on much more, Lord Lloyd-Webber said.
“Theatre is an incredibly labour-intensive business. In many ways putting on a show now is almost a labour of love.
“Very few shows hit the jackpot in the way a Hamilton, Lion King or Phantom of the Opera do.”
He added that theatre productions were “not like cinema, you can’t just open the building”.
The government announced a £1.57bn support package earlier this year to support the arts, which was widely welcomed by the industry.
But Lord Lloyd-Webber stressed the importance of naming a date when theatres can reopen.
He also discussed the “critical” importance of clean air. “I am absolutely confident that the air in the London Palladium and in all my theatres is purer than the air outside,” he said.
He also suggested he could move his forthcoming production of Cinderella from the UK to a different location “where people are being a little more helpful”. It was originally due to open in London’s West End this month.
Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of the LW Theatres, the company that runs Lord Lloyd-Webber’s venues, added;
We don’t want to open theatres on a socially distanced basis. I have no intention of opening buildings at 30% capacity.
Recent months had been “devastating and catastrophic” for the sector, she said.
“It’s a really bad, catastrophic time and we need to find a way out of it. It was disheartening that the pilot wasn’t later seen as a way to getting full reopening.”
She added: “We need the time to plan. We can’t switch on theatre like a tap. Christmas is hanging in the balance as we speak.”
A DCMS spokeswoman said the government was “working flat out to support our world-class performing arts sector through challenging times”.
Our unprecedented £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund builds on £200m in emergency public funding to stabilise organisations, protect jobs and ensure work continues to flow to freelancers. This funding will support organisations of all sizes across the country, including theatres.
Performances indoors and outdoors can now take place with a socially distanced audience and we are working at pace with the industry on innovative proposals for how full audiences might return safely as soon as possible. We also want the public to show their support by visiting theatres as they start to reopen.
Lucy Noble, artistic and commercial director of the Royal Albert Hall and chair of the National Arenas Association, told the DCMS Committee there were “huge consequences to venues not being able to put performances on… serious financial consequences”.
She added: “All venues are on their knees financially… When Oliver Dowden announced the £1.57 billion rescue package, the Royal Albert Hall was hailed as one of the crown jewels that this package would save.
“We have been told we are not eligible for any of the grant at all.
“We are only eligible to take a loan. We’ve already taken £10m worth of loans. We’d rather not get into any more debt.”