Reed Smith Client Alerts

Authors: Gregor Pryor Nick Breen

Although it has been a month since the Brexit vote, exactly how and when the UK will formally exit from the EU is still unknown. Like many other industries and sectors, the theatre industry will certainly be affected by Brexit – creating both challenges and opportunities for producers, investors, performers, and other theatre contributors.

Talent One area of particular concern is access to talent; from a production’s creative team through to the performers, stagehands and technicians. The free movement of people, goods and services is fundamental to the existence and functioning of the EU and enables, among other things, EU citizens to travel, live and work within any EU member state without requiring any visas, permissions or having to be concerned with any other formalities. Theatre producers in the UK have taken full advantage of the free movement of people principle to access and retain the best international talent for productions. Indeed, free movement has been hailed as being crucial to London’s success in becoming a cultural hub for the arts globally.

Restricting free movement Unless the UK maintains the free movement of people principle post Brexit, then it is likely that foreign EU nationals will (in a similar manner to other foreign non-EU nationals) be required to obtain a visa or other work permit in order to live and work in the UK.

There are talks that Britain might move towards a points-style immigration system. This means qualifications, earnings, age, and English language skills will all be taken into account before a visa is granted. For an industry like theatre, where salaries can vary considerably, this means immigration of foreign talent may be significantly restricted, impacting who can be recruited and creating an undesirable barrier to the procurement of talent.

Should Brexit lead to a restriction on free movement, it could affect the industry in a number of ways:

  • UK productions – If a UK production wants to work with a foreign EU national, then there is likely to be added complexity, bureaucracy, admin and, as a natural corollary, expense in working with such a person. This may put greater strain on poorly-resourced theatre companies, in particular, and will affect theatre companies of all sizes and nature.

    Dance companies are likely to be affected by this especially, since they source a significant portion of their performers from the EU1. On the other hand, the Home Office has recently categorised dance as a ‘shortage occupation’, which may lessen the burden of acquiring a visa in this area.

    Of course, this doesn’t only affect performers. Other theatre contributors such as directors, musical directors, choreographers, and designers could also be impacted. In light of the added complexity in working with foreign nationals, it remains to be seen whether it will influence who gets picked for a particular UK production. From a purely practical perspective, it will become more difficult for foreign EU nationals – if they aren’t able to live here without a visa – to attend auditions in the UK. If Brexit does lead to a reduction in the casting/hiring of foreign EU nationals, then while this may present greater opportunities for UK performers/crew, it is questionable whether a smaller overall talent pool will impact the pool’s quality.
  • Foreign productions/tours – In a similar manner, if a UK production wishes to do a European tour then the production company will have their work cut out to secure visas and work permits for all UK nationals working on the production from each EU country they visit. And, if your production is touring with its set and equipment, then there could also be requirements for carnets, equipment levies or inspections.

    Established theatre companies will be familiar with these kinds of issues if they have worked with U.S. performers/crew or have undertaken U.S./ROW tours. With this in mind, such established companies, or better-resourced companies, may find these additional requirements aren’t as burdensome as they may first appear.

Culture Brexit may lead to a diminishing of cultural exchange as we may see fewer international productions (which often bring the most innovative and diverse theatre to the UK) at our local theatres. Such cultural enrichment has also been linked to the creation of new works and education, with Ian Nicholson (artistic director of Old Salt Theatre Company) noting his work with diverse individuals as influencing his entire career2.

Education and training It’s not only working performers and theatre contributors who may be affected by Brexit; the UK is also home to some of the most well-respected drama schools and academic institutions in the world, the make-up of which has recently been heavily shaped by students from the EU. Brexit may lead to higher fees or greater bureaucracy for foreign EU students, who may find themselves in a similar position to current students from the rest of the world. While this may affect the number and diversity of European students at drama schools and institutions in the future, it could also lead to greater opportunities for non-European students; indeed, there has recently been an increase in the recruitment of students from China and Korea who come to the UK to study or train with a view to working in the creative industries.

Funding A potentially significant detriment to UK theatre is the funding the industry will cease to receive from Europe, most notably from the Creative Europe programme. This programme has invested around €1.3 billion in the UK, including £39 million promoting British films to Europe and investing £37 million into UK companies. European co-production funding is now considered to be part of production houses’ financial models, and reliance upon them has become commonplace.

Additionally, economic uncertainty in general is not good for theatre – particularly if Brexit triggers a recession, as both public and private funding would take a hit. This may impact smaller theatre companies in particular, as opposed to larger ones. So far, larger theatre productions have noted the lack of impact post-Brexit on productions such as Harry Potter And The Cursed Child and Richard III.

Conclusion Despite the issues raised above, statistics show the arts industry in the UK benefits from the United States almost as much as it benefits from Europe. Similarly, Munira Mirza, the deputy mayor for education and culture of London, has said that Brexit means talent could be attracted from around the world (i.e., outside of Europe) and cultural links fostered with emerging countries3.

This isn’t the first time that concerns have been raised about the future of the theatre industry in the context of broader political and economic uncertainty. Following the financial crisis, there was a fear that West End box offices would be hit (particularly in light of the West End’s reliance on tourism). Nevertheless, this concern proved to be misplaced, as the box office was stable and, in some instances, improved4. Theatre director Guy Unsworth said: “As the recession showed, theatre box offices can be surprisingly robust during a downturn in the economy. However, it’s important to note that reductions in funding can have serious effects in the long run – especially on smaller or emerging theatre companies. That said, British-made theatre remains highly regarded across the world. This demand will continue to feed back into the industry in the UK and, hopefully, support our endeavours to share these shows internationally.”

In reality, however, all this depends on the outcome of the negotiations with Europe. While, in the short-term, little is likely to happen, we await to see how this plays out in the long run.

We have been working with our clients in the media and entertainment industry, not only to pre-empt and prepare for any challenges that may arise from Brexit, but also to identify and act on potential opportunities it could bring about. If you would like more information on this topic, or to discuss any specific queries, then please contact one of the authors.


  1. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/royal-ballet-sadlers-wells-explain-brexit-will-hurt-dance/
  2. http://www.ayoungertheatre.com/how-will-brexit-impact-our-young-theatre-makers/
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/19/huge-creative-step-backwards-arts-view-brexit-eu-referendum
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2010/may/22/ticket-sales-boom-recession

 

Client Alert 2016-203