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TheatreNI Statement

Friday 20th April 2018


Dear Members

As you aware, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) notified its annually funded clients of their grant offer for the 2018/19 financial year on the 9th April 2018.  Despite strong advocacy and campaigning by our sector and others, their allocation from the Department for Communities was reduced by 4.7%; a £23 million loss to the Arts Council’s budget since 2012.

We are dismayed and deeply hurt by these cuts and the severe reductions to the overall arts industry. The cuts to Northern Ireland’s vibrant independent theatre companies who received reductions of between 5% and 18% is particularly galling, and those to our energetic and enterprising members, Bruiser Theatre Company (88%), Aisling Ghéar, the only Irish language theatre company (18%) and New Lodge Arts (82%), who do incredible work in one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland, shocking. One of our larger members, the Grand Opera House, who support the delivery of TheatreNI’s captioning service, received a cut of 22%. The scale of the cut will no doubt have an impact on the theatre, which attracts around 300,000 people through the doors each year, and its performance programme.

We applaud the work and professionalism of all our theatre organisations and venues; the artists who work with them and the vital contribution they make to the arts and to society generally, here at home and beyond.

These cuts are devastating for the people who work with or in these organisations; the broader theatre and performing arts sector and indeed, the entire culture and arts ecosystem. Companies will close, jobs will be lost, and their ability to deliver work for our audiences in venues, and participants in communities, schools, in health and in other sectors, stopped completely or diminished.

These cuts are also extremely short-sighted, given the potential of this revenue generating industry, to grow our creative economy. The pool of professional theatre makers, actors, technicians, producers, writers and others who make up this sector will seek work elsewhere, where this industry is valued and recognised; or be forced to retrain for jobs in other industries. The sector has suffered years of disinvestment and lack of support from policy makers and government, but has survived, often at great personal cost, because of the entrepreneurialism, passion, energy and commitment of the people who work within it. The organisations and people in these occupations should not be facing reductions in public spending; they should be celebrated and supported with levels of investment concurrent with the important work that they do, and their impact. Furthermore, our future success in a competitive global economy means we should need more, not fewer, workers in the creative sector. We also need a vision and a strategy from policy makers, that supports those people and all our futures.

Our independent organisations, artists and the venues who host them, have been to the fore in telling the stories of this place; challenging and entertaining audiences, while engaging in community cohesion, diversity, peace building, education, health, and regeneration projects. These are all vital activities which contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of this place we call home and are essential for a healthy democracy and economy in Northern Ireland. We salute you and hold you with the deepest respect.

Unfortunately, TheatreNI, has also suffered substantial cuts to both our programming (21%) and core (7.5%) budgets. This was extremely disappointing, given the success and impact of our work and the fact that we are a relatively new organisation.[1]

Despite this, we will maintain our support to our members, including supporting our freelance practitioners and non-annually funded companies, who will also be harshly affected by these cuts. We hope to maintain most of our current range of bursaries, training, workshops, and member services and our unique Member Assistance Programme, which offers access to a free 24-hour counselling helpline and face-to-face counselling. This has been one of TheatreNI’s greatest achievements and we are proud to be the first arts support organisation, to our knowledge, in the UK and Ireland to lead on such an important initiative.[2]

TheatreNI will continue to work with our members, the broader Northern Irish arts and cultural sector, other national partners and colleagues, including Theatre Forum, Youth Theatre Ireland, Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, Equity, UK Theatre and Independent Theatre Council, and government to advocate for recognition of the contribution our industry makes to delivering public services across Northern Ireland, and to helping support and grow our sector. Together, we need to continue to build support for our industry with our audience members, our communities, and to those whose job it is to support us to build a strong and united voice to resist job cuts and closures. We must involve all those organisations facing public spending reductions and most of all our students and young people who wish to work in our wonderful creative industries.

Moving forward, and, given the likelihood of further cuts to public funding and the threat to arts support organisations in the future, we will begin to explore our options, including the potential of creating a stronger organisation for theatre, dance and the performing arts with Dance Resource Base(DRB). This would include the work of both companies and in the longer term, expand the range of services to our members. We have worked closely with DRB on several projects over the past year – including delivering training of an international standard in Intellectual Property and Copyright and Critical Response Process with the acclaimed US artist and trainer, Liz Lerman.  We will carry out our exploratory discussions with DRB strategically, in a spirit of leadership, trust, openness and possibility that has been at the core of all our collaborative work to date.

We will also begin consulting with our members and others as soon as possible about future developments and we hope to develop a position paper over the coming months.

In the meantime, we would ask you to renew your membership with TheatreNI and help us to work towards achieving our aims of a vibrant and healthy theatre and performing arts sector. We are so much stronger together!

We would also like to remind you about our high-profile advocacy event which we have organised in partnership with Equity. This will take place in Belfast City Hall on 4th May and we are delighted to welcome actors, Simon Callow and Stuart Graham, to present at this important celebration.  An invitation is attached here.

In addition, plans are ongoing for our annual All-Island Performing Arts Conference[3] which is being held in Belfast on 20th and 21st June 2018. A full and very exciting programme which will include a session on arts policy, funding and advocacy will be announced next week and we look forward to seeing you there.

I want to wish you all the very best in the difficult times ahead but believe strongly that we can turn this around to offer a better and brighter future for us all.


With best regards,

Niamh Flanagan

Executive Director, TheatreNI



TheatreNI: A sample of Key Achievements 2016-2018

As TheatreNI we have endeavoured to be responsive and supportive to the needs of our theatre and performing arts sector, including supporting a growing membership of over 150 people and organisations. We have aimed to make our membership as affordable as possible, by offering annual fees on a sliding scale – whereby independent practitioners and smaller companies pay the least and larger, better resourced organisations pay more. We have aimed to make this membership as valuable as possible, working in consultation with our members and strategic partners, locally and nationally, while developing, connecting, supporting and advocating for the sector and providing relevant training, projects and events, that are both practical and strategic.

Over the past two years, TheatreNI have:

  • Launched a Member Assistance Programme: We are the first arts support organisation in the UK and Ireland to provide a confidential, professional, independent counselling and range of member wellbeing support services in partnership with Inspire Workplaces:https://theatreni.org/resources/member-assistance-programme/;
  • Developed and launched Tourbook with our partners Theatre Forum, Dublin. Developed in Scotland by think.in.form, the purpose of Tourbook is to support promoters and programmers in presenting work, thereby creating work for makers and artists and giving more audiences opportunities to participate in the arts. Tourbook is an online showcasing and management platform for everyone who works with live performance: promoters, performers, venues and networks. The platform helps performers in dance, theatre, music, comedy and more connect with promoters and venues across Ireland and Scotland, to showcase work, discover new acts, find new venues and audiences, and brings together a community of all those working in the performing arts to put great shows on stages everywhere – from temporary stages in community venues to main houses: https://tourbook.live/;
  • Continued to partner with Theatre Forum to deliver the All-Island Performing Arts Conferences (APAC) in Galway (2016), Cork (2017). We are delighted to bring over 350 delegates from all over Ireland and the UK to Belfast in 2018 for APAC. The four-part 2018 conference programme, includes topics that are urgent and relevant to politicians, policy makers; and to producers, presenters and performers in the theatre and performing arts sector and broader creative industries.  Key themes include Workplace Equality, The Future of Production, Facing up to Climate Change and Beyond Borders in a post-Brexit world. APAC is the largest gathering of professionals from the performing arts in Ireland, North and South. https://theatreni.org/all-ireland-performing-arts-conference/. The inaugural all-island conference took place in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in 2012.
  • Partnered on a UK wide Theatre2016 conference reaching an audience of 660 in May 2016; http://www.abtt.org.uk/event/theatre-2016-conference/;
  • Worked with Derry City and Strabane District Council and consultants to co-design and develop a Culture and Arts Strategy for Derry and Strabane;
  • Developed and disseminated Creating Safer Spaces in the Theatre and Performing Arts Sector in Northern Ireland, a guidance document to lead on an initial response to the issues of bullying and harassment in our workplaces and following the recent revelations and media coverage of sexual assault and harassment across the film and theatre industries: https://theatreni.org/resources/creating-safer-spaces-theatre-performing-arts-sector-ni/. In partnership with Ulster University, Equality Commission and Equity, TheatreNI organised the Creating Safer Spaces in the Theatre and Performing Arts in Northern Ireland event to begin supporting the sector to implement changes which will lead to safer working spaces in the industry. Report available: https://mail.theatreni.org/creating-safer-spaces-in-the-theatre-and-performing-arts-sector/. We have signed up to UK Theatre/SOLT 10 principles which are contained in an industry guidance handbook: http://littletheatreguild.org/solt-uk-theatre-handbook/ TheatreNI’s Member Assistance Programme has been listed as a resource in the handbook;
  • Provided 27 captioned performances across Northern Ireland ensuring performances reached audiences of 8370;
  • Provided support to our sector with over 175 ‘meet and greet’ and other networking events, supporting engagement with over 400 individuals and organisations;
  • Supported over 1000 requests for advice and support via phone or email;
  • Developed an online mailing e-zine to 950 people, collating a repository of industry events, portfolios on people working in the industry, notices of job and training opportunities and other resources; which has been accessed 10,000 times;
  • Attended over 100 performances to support the work and creativity of our venues and independent theatre companies across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland;
  • Took part in local and national radio broadcasts, advocating for theatre and the performing arts, reaching audiences of over 11,000 people;
  • Researched and wrote a 162-page report on the Sustainability of the Theatre and Performing Arts Sector in Northern Ireland;
  • Worked closely with the Northern Ireland Arts Collaboration Group to develop and disseminate sectoral knowledge of Outcomes Based Accountability™ (OBA™) and Inspiring Impact.

Development: Training and professional development opportunities

  • Delivered 30 responsive and strategic sectoral training events and workshops for 400 participants, with support from Belfast City Council and our principal funder, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1/3 of which were free of charge. This included high level training in IP & Copyright, delivered in partnership with DRB and delivered by international experts, Prof. Ronan Deazley (QUB), Prof. Charlotte Waelde (Coventry University), Dr Luke McDonagh (London City University), Dr Mathilde Pavis (Exeter University) and Jackie Elliman (Independent Theatre Council, London (ITC));
  • Provided 9 independent practitioners with professional development and training bursaries to attend IETM, Interchange, Scotland and Dublin Theatre Festival; Two members will get the opportunity to work with top European Directors at the Divadlo Archa International Summer School in Prague, 2018: https://theatreni.org/divadlo-archa-international-summer-school-bursaries/?highlight=Archa%20Dvadlo;
  • Provided 3 technical theatre bursaries which offered short term placements with professional venues and direct pathways to professional employment in the Northern Ireland creative sector.

Youth Theatre Sector

  • Developed a Northern Ireland Youth Theatre Steering Group, with 33 members from across Northern Ireland, who meet quarterly for support, knowledge sharing and training to advance the youth theatre sector;
  • Delivered two all-Island Youth Theatre Symposiums with our partners Youth Theatre Ireland and MIC, Limerick: https://theatreni.org/youth-theatre-practice-symposium/?highlight=youth%20theatre%20symposium;
  • Working to establish a European Youth Theatre Network with partners Youth Theatre Ireland and Youth Theatre Arts Scotland and European partners;
  • Enabled 2 young people from Northern Ireland to attend On the Edge, 2016 ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering and World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences. The event, held in Birmingham and hosted by the UK and Ireland for the first time, attracted over 400 delegates from 51 countries and featured a programme of 91 performances plus 56 symposium events. Our young people had the opportunity to take part in the festival, view performances and train in critical review. ASSITEJ is dedicated to the artistic, cultural and educational rights of children and young people across the globe and advocates on behalf of all children regardless of nationality, cultural identity, ability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion. ASSITEJ brings people together so that they can share knowledge and practice within the field of theatre for children and young people to deepen understandings, develop practice, create new opportunities and strengthen the global sector: https://theatreni.org/opportunities-at-the-world-festival-of-theatre-for-young-audiences-2016/?highlight=assitej;
  • Developed and continued to deliver a Young Critics programme with support from the Halifax Foundation, which has enabled 10 young people to be trained and mentored in critical review with esteemed Guardian critic, Lyn Gardner and BBC Producer Steven Rainey. A further 20 young people (GCSE+) developed their theatre review skills with Helen Meany, Guardian and Irish Times critic. We provided ongoing support for our young critics, published 16 of our young critic reviews which were supported by companies and venues in the sector including Kabosh, Tinderbox, Greenshoot Productions, The Lyric, Grand Opera House and The MAC;
  • Collaborated and partnered on training or events with 5 additional festivals including Belfast Children’s Festival reaching audiences of 268 people;
  • Developed the Resources for International and National Work in Theatre and the Performing Arts, published at Off-Shore Investment event as part of Young at Art’s Belfast Children’s Festival 2018: https://theatreni.org/resources/resources-for-international-and-national-work-in-theatre-and-the-performing-arts/.

Work with schools, Higher Education sector and Universities

  • Helped develop and deliver the Arts Entrepreneurship module for the Performing Arts course at Ulster University, Magee Campus in partnership with DR. Tanya Dean. This module assists students in developing specific skills and awareness to maximise their ability to meet their career goals, developing students’ career prospects and preparing them to engage in the world of work within the creative industries upon graduation;
  • Provided careers advice, support and mentoring for over 310 young people in schools and performing arts courses across Northern Ireland.






[1]TheatreNI was set up in late Autumn 2015 following a merger between the Ulster Association of Youth Drama and the Northern Ireland Theatre Association. A list of some of our achievements are highlighted in an Appendix to this statement.




[3] A partnership since 2012, with Theatre Forum, Dublin.