Lockdown Unlocked – A blog from a social distance by Thomas Willshire #14 Oh no he didn’t!

The government has announced that a large amount of money (around 1.5 billion pounds) is going to be offered to help the Arts in the U.K recover from the impact of the pandemic. Thank goodness. I doubt this will totally prevent job losses and closures but I’m sure, if channelled correctly, it will provide enormous support for many creative people and valuable institutions.

So, the shouting and hollering for aid seems to have worked but the din won’t be diminishing any time soon. How is the money to be portioned out? It’s natural on hearing such news to think first and foremost about one’s own patch and I do hope some money trickles down to pub-theatres and comedy venues. There are much larger machines in need of oiling, of course, but these machines are fuelled and ultimately sustained by the Fringe scene and I hope that isn’t forgotten.

Elitism has, at times, reared its ugly head during these budgeting debates and Polly brought my attention to a prime example yesterday. Matthew Anderson, the European Culture Editor for The New York Times posted a very dismissive message suggesting that pantomimes were far from what the government’s money should be going towards. “If that’s the most important art form for the health of the sector, there’s something wrong in the system.”, he Tweeted. This caused great consternation amongst my peers and I’m with them all the way. Mr Anderson certainly puts the nob in snob. I can’t claim pantomimes are to my taste but this isn’t about personal preferences. One has to acknowledge that they’re the lifeblood of regional theatre. They provide employment to thousands of people and offer a much-needed foot in the door to young performers. Panto also offers a wonderful entry point into live performance for children. Would you have a young person’s introduction to theatre be a four hour Hamlet (putting them off forever) or would you have them attend Jack and the Beanstalk where they can cheer, boo and tangibly engage with what’s in front of them? Pantomimes are also an important part of our tradition and culture.

If I were to suggest that the Mauri’s Haka was a low brow waste of time I’d be accused of all sorts of things and quite rightly.

Pantomime has become emblematic of what it is to be British. Getting this year’s pantomimes on in some manner (or ensuring they can thrive next year) should be a financial priority.

I’m still sorting the first two acts out. I want to have everything in place before I attempt to finish it all off properly.

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