Over £1.5 billion to arts. One company explains why they are unlikely to see any of it.
Oddsocks Productions were looking forward to celebrating 31 years of touring this summer, then Coronavirus hit and pre-production was halted, the company went into lockdown and all future income ceased. Unfortunately the family business fell through the cracks of all the governmental financial packages. Undefeated the couple, who are shielding their severely at risk daughter, set about performing live theatre, and streaming it from their own home and applied to the Arts Council for some emergency funds to help them through the crisis. The Arts Council promptly turned their application for help down without explanation. “We were bitterly disappointed and more than a little anxious by then” says Elli Mackenzie, Creative Producer and one half of the husband and wife team “We’d accepted that we had ‘slipped through the government’s financial help net’ up to that point but the fact that our application was rejected, with no feedback came as a bitter blow. We have contributed to the economy, employing professional creatives without direct arts funding for over 30 years and have always paid our teams a legal living wage with holiday pay and subsistence and paid our taxes and VAT bills on time too, it felt like a real ‘slap in the face’.”
An appeal for help on social media began and within weeks the company’s audiences showed their support where official organisations hadn’t. Donations started to flood in, from as little as £2.50 to donations of over £100. “We were bowled over by the support” Elli says, “and made sure that we shared out the income with our freelance actors who were also suffering from a sudden end to their work and we will continue to do that as donations come in. Also, a few of our venues who we were planning to tour to, have very kindly allowed us to keep payments to carry forward to 2021 which was very generous, but apart from that and the donations, we have nothing coming in and no other work; the future is still very uncertain”. Of the recent £1.5 billion injection of funds to the arts Elli responds “It is very welcome and sends an important message out about the importance of arts in general, but it has been made clear that the greater proportion of this will go to venues. This means that there will be theatres for us to return to, should we survive, but that is really as far as it goes for us. As we don’t receive direct funding, we rely on ticket income and with audiences socially distancing theatres will find keeping their income levels at a workable rate extremely difficult and we will no doubt be a casualty of that”.
“We take good quality, professional theatre across most regions of the UK and entertain thousands of people from all walks of life who might not otherwise see theatre…”
Artistic Director and Elli’s husband Andy chips in: “We take good quality, professional theatre across most regions of the UK and entertain thousands of people from all walks of life who might not otherwise see theatre almost on their doorstep, in none arts spaces like parks and gardens as well as local arts centres in the winter. Our following and the fact that we have survived unfunded for 31 years speaks for itself which is why a little bit of help at a time of emergency from the Arts establishment in this country would have been gratefully received. The news of a VAT reduction will help a bit though we hope. Currently 20% of each ticket purchased goes to the government and this means that once a venue has taken their cut, Oddsocks is generally left with less than 50% of the ticket income to pay our production and touring costs. When you think that to mount each production costs us in the region of £120,000, an average ticket price of £15 for one of our performances doesn’t leave much fat.”
The company, famous for it’s comedic take on classic literature and in particular Shakespeare, has been busy in lockdown however as the directors feel it is important to keep their audience entertained and engaged with their work, so they have been live streaming Shakespeare adaptations with a difference direct from their own family home. The first performance, a comedy version of “Macbeth” performed by Andy, Elli and their 19 year old daughter Charlie was streamed live at the end of May and attracted 3000 viewers when the free performance went out. They followed it up with a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a month later, again all from inside the house filmed on phones and laptops and this time they were joined by their 23 year old son Felix. “We are hoping to do another at the end of July” Elli says “They take a lot of rehearsal but are also fun to do and keep us in practice whilst we shield our daughter”. Recordings of the live streamed “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be watched by going to the company’s website at
Donations can also be made by going to https://www.oddsocks.co.uk/stay-home-shakespeare
“We fully intend to survive this crisis and be back doing what we love, in whatever form that takes and we are so grateful for all the support our audiences have shown. Of course, it would be great if we could get our online performances mentioned in the press as ‘free theatre to watch online’ too in the meantime” concluded Elli.