Capturing Cardiff

January 14, 2009 at 3:43 pm (Uncategorized)

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Going to the local theatre has always been part of entertainment in society. Historically, it used to be only for the rich and entertainment in local theatres was for royalty or the aristocracy. Then it became open to the masses and its role in periods of such as the Second World War was integral to keeping the nation’s spirits up in a time of disaster and emotional strain. But what is its role today?

The New Theatre, Cardiff

The New Theatre, Cardiff

Cardiff certainly does not suffer from a lack of theatre offerings to locals in the city. But it doesn’t seem to play the role that it used to for entertainment. Is local theatre in Cardiff dead? There is a strong argument for it, especially when there are so many factors that it now has to compete with.

The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Its influence and place in the city has certainly decreased and it is not getting the figures that it used to. Performing Arts revenue for the economy went from £0.9 billion in 1998 to £0.5 billion in 2001, a trend that seems to be continuous. The Laughing Audience theatre group suggested on average a performance only gets 55% audience capacity, a figure that leaves theatres in debt if they cannot get subsidies for their losses.

That is not to say that theatre will drown in a sea of new entertainment, but those in the profession are in for a struggle to keep themselves going for audiences who still hold the theatre close to their hearts.

We live in a world where cheap entertainment is right at our fingertips and theatre does not seem to fit in anymore. In Cardiff, there are at least 4 venues that put on shows within a 10 minute walk from Queen Street. But then so is the cinema, entertainment shops and gig venues.

Cineworld, Cardiff

Cineworld, Cardiff

You don’t even have to leave the house to be entertained anymore, most of us have a wide collection on DVD’s, so it requires minimal movement and with on demand television we can watch our favourite television shows when we like, leaving almost no need to pay to go to the theatre.

HMV, Cardiff

HMV, Cardiff

It has become increasingly difficult for young people to find the desire or inclination to go. They have grown up in a time when Hollywood’s budget is beyond our comprehension and we can witness the most talented actors with the world’s best special effects for a mere £5 and the theatre looks a bit dull in comparison. With Cardiff focusing on its sporting entertainment and music venues the theatre can easily be overlooked.

Cineworld, Cardiff

Cineworld, Cardiff

David Bond, Head of Acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, admits that figures are not what they used to be. But he feels it has come to equilibrium and local theatre will not decline any further.

He said: “There is no decline in popularity here. Our shows often sell out.”

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Mr Bond felt there would always be demand for live theatre performances as people get tired of television and film.

He said: “People buy CDs but they still want to go to the concerts. People have said theatre is in decline for many years, but it is still relatively healthy. People will always go to London to see high profile shows but there is still a substantial audience for theatre locally.”

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Mr Bond said theatre struggled against new forms of entertainment as it was not a commodity and could not be used again to show on repeat.

He added: “I think it will survive. Theatre will change but it won’t go. It is part of the community as much as swimming pools, libraries or museums.”

Hannah Rix, an amateur dramatics performer, with R.A.T.S, a local theatre company, agrees local theatre in Cardiff is still popular.

She said: “I think local theatre in Cardiff is thriving. As a huge fan of performing and watching local theatre productions I’m spoilt for choice. There are a large number of amateur companies in Cardiff, many of which have made a good name for themselves among local people.”

The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Despite pressure from London West end shows to attract audiences, Miss Rix suggests that these actually have the opposite effect on theatre’s popularity in Cardiff and the big shows in the West end and from popular reality television programmes such as ‘I’d do Anything’ have helped make theatre in Cardiff more successful.

She said: “Professional companies do very well at venues such as the New Theatre and the Wales Millennium Centre, but amateur companies such as Orbit Theatre have a very large following. I think it’s a good thing that theatre lovers have a more affordable opportunity to enjoy performances. Talent searches provide huge publicity for West End theatre productions and I think this has a positive knock on effect for amateurs.”

It seems many people are still attracted to the theatre but the wide choice of other entertainment forms that are cheaper, which is crucial in the time of economic instability, plays a part in falling audience figures.

Local theatre has its place and perhaps it will survive, it would be sad if it did not, but it needs to change and bring out something spectacular to wow audiences back to its doors.

Relevant websites

· http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/english/index.asp

· http://www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk/english/index.asp

· http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/

· http://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/

· http://www.laughingaudience.co.uk/

· http://www.theatre-wales.co.uk/amdram/index.asp

· http://www.everymantheatre.co.uk/

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