The National Theatre has told its 400-strong team of casual staff that they will lose their jobs in a move it said was unavoidable as the Covid-19 crisis continues to force job losses across the British theatre landscape.
The NT said that it will still be “many months before it will be possible to perform to audiences at usual capacities” and as a result job losses are unavoidable.
A spokesperson said: “We have committed to paying our casual staff until the end of August, but very sadly due to the changes in the government Job Retention Scheme we simply cannot afford to offer financial support beyond that point.”
The casual staff, including its 250-person front of house and 150-person backstage teams, were told they would be paid until the end of August but not be kept on after that point via an email sent on Friday morning.
Jasmin Mandi-Ghomi, who worked as an usher at the NT and is also a playwright, said casual staff were not surprised to be told they were losing their jobs in the current climate.
“They don’t know when they’re going to reopen and they have three auditoriums, without knowing when people are going to be back in or how they’re going to keep people safe,” she said. “It just needs to survive at this point. I understand why they’ve done it, but it is still hard.”
Many front-of-house staff have second jobs in the arts to afford to stay in the sector and the NT had one of the largest teams in the UK.
The NT added that it is midway through the redundancy process and has started formal consultation in some areas of the organisation, with more expected to follow later this month.
In May, NT’s joint chief executives, Lisa Burger and Rufus Norris, warned that they would have to make significant numbers of staff redundant unless the NT received additional financial support from the government.
At the time it was understood that the cuts could amount to 30% of the theatre’s salaried staff being made redundant. They said “vital talent and infrastructure” would be lost without help to plug the “significant financial gap” that had been created as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
The news comes on the same day theatre industry publication The Stage announced it has begun redundancy consultations with staff and as the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu) warned that the “perfect storm” that has hit British theatre will “turn into a tsunami” of close to 3,000 job losses without direct government intervention.
The head of Bectu, Philippa Childs, said that more than three months after closing their doors due to Covid-19 “theatres have no income coming in and no plan for when they can truly start to operate again”.
Last week the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, released a five-step roadmap to reopen England’s theatres, which was widely criticised by theatre figures for being vague and lacking in investment. A government spokesperson responded that they had provided “unprecedented financial assistance” and were considering further ways to support the industry.
This week several prominent theatres announced – or warned of – redundancies as the sector struggles to cope with the impact of Covid-19.
The Royal Albert Hall released a statement on Thursday saying it will run out of cash by early 2021. Its CEO, Craig Hassall, called for “a clear conditional timeline for reopening venues without social distancing, alongside a comprehensive business support package”.
Norwich Theatre Royal announced that more than half of its workforce could be made redundant, while Theatre Royal Plymouth and Birmingham Hippodrome have already started redundancy processes.
The Royal Exchange in Manchester has said it faces making up to 65% of its permanent roles redundant. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said that there have been “many warnings coming out of the cultural sector in recent weeks but we are yet to see any meaningful response from the government”.