Britain’s EU referendum coincided with previews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part play produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, which I chair. Like the overwhelming majority of those working in my field, I was in favor of staying in the EU, partly because I was skeptical that a leave vote would bring economic benefits to the industry. theater.
West End ticket sales were robust, while tax breaks had made the UK an exceptionally productive place to stage shows. No one would seriously consider a decision as destabilizing as Brexit, I thought?
This illusion was shattered on June 24 with the victory of the “leave” camp. In the weeks that followed, I was relieved to see that ticket sales for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child exceeded expectations despite the equally gripping drama airing for free on television and in our national press.
Brexit had everything but the chopsticks – plot twists, disappearing acts and villains – a compelling play but felt like someone forgot to write the ending.
Even though Harry emerged from the vote unscathed, the theater industry faces a damaging period of uncertainty. Delays in decision-making and a decrease in risk tolerance among investors are just the beginning. Immediate concern in our office centered on the freedom of movement of creative and operational staff. Any post-Brexit restrictions would make it harder for us to produce quality content and make our theaters profitable.
When I co-founded the Ambassador Theater Group, of which Sonia Friedman Productions is a part, our approach was to increase quality and availability: to deliver the best shows and more. Free movement within the EU has made it easier to access actors, creators, musicians and operational staff — and an open door to more talent has always resulted in better quality. Closing it now would have the opposite effect.
The Brexit vote came after ATG increased its interests in continental Europe. In 2015, she acquired a majority stake in BB Group, an international producer of musicals such as The bodyguard and West Side Storybased in Germany.
Our private equity investors saw the potential of a bridge to continental Europe, with its promise of a greater supply of quality productions for UK theaters and more opportunities to export UK talent to the UK. EU.
For us, an international network of theaters and productions was the ultimate prize and it would be a two-way street, benefiting audiences from Berlin to Birmingham. Would this acquisition have been made post-Brexit? May be. But reaching an agreement would have been more complex and it is also possible that we postponed our decision to invest.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU also raises the prospect of complex trade negotiations, which I have experienced as chairman of the trade association, the Society of London Theatre. With our American counterpart, the Broadway League, the US Actors’ Equity Association and UK’s Equity, we have reached a quadripartite agreement to allow an equal number of British artists to participate in performances in the West End and on Broadway under the aegis of a regulated contract and fees.
Our team had many years of experience and deep knowledge of the theater industry, but the negotiations were still complex, unpredictable and took years.
It was an exchange agreement; Brexit will require the resetting of trade relations around the world without any real precedent or plan. There have also been uncertainties about EU funding for artistic projects over the next few years. EU money has been essential to the cultural life of regions most in need, such as Cornwall or Staffordshire.
I have to stop hoping that some benevolent being will magically step in – Dumbledore-like – to produce a post-Brexit blueprint for the creative industries. Nor can I venture to assume that politicians or civil servants know enough about the sector, despite the £84bn of tangible benefits to the UK economy.
David Davis, Britain’s Brexit minister, argues that having Britain outside the EU will provide stronger economic conditions for all businesses. Its ambition is to make us a great trading nation. I trade in culture and, as it is a real challenge for my business, I will only be satisfied after speaking face to face with the person who will really make the decisions.
So David, want to go to the theater next week?
The author is vice-president of the Ambassador Theater Group and former British entrepreneur of the year from EY.