Lottery rescue for panto season echoes OneVoice Campaign concept

An innovative theatre seat-matching stimulus concept is being piloted by theatre owners Qdos, the UK government and the National Lottery in time for the pantomime season.

The idea seems to stem from the OneVoice Campaign, which was launched to find new ways of supporting the performing arts and freelancers beyond the government’s £1.57 Culture Recovery Fund.

‘Our main focus is on encouraging government and encouraging arts organisations to make work now,’ OneVoice Campaign’s Co-Founder Andy Staples told Mariella Frostrup of Times Radio back in August. ‘The X-factor is how do you deal with social distancing.’ With venues only allowed to sell 30% of their seats, it has been impossible for them to re-open and pay staff and performers without making a substantial loss.

The idea the OneVoice Campaign proposed was to encourage government to match fund ticket sales by purchasing seats that rules require remain empty. With the backing of arts institutions and Members of Parliament such as Alex Davies Jones MP, the campaign’s Seat Out To Help Out concept has gained traction in Westminster.

‘Get some panto back on this Christmas’

Weeks of lobbying by the campaigners to the Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), the Treasury and Number 10 Downing Street, seem to have inspired a special arrangement between Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Qdos organisation, the government and the National Lottery to pilot a seat-matching scheme for Pantoland at the Palladium.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden launched what he dubbed Operation Sleeping Beauty and claimed the National Lottery would be offering similar schemes to theatres nationwide. ‘Our hope is to get some panto back on this Christmas,’ said Dowden, acknowledging that the scheme has come too late for many productions. ‘Despite the very challenging backdrop, we are going to give is our best shot.’

He did not explain why the deal has been struck with Qdos rather than the industry body UK Theatre, 25% of whose members have already taken the bold risk of announcing stripped-back pantomimes without the seat-matching scheme.

Meanwhile, the OneVoice Campaign continues to press its case for seat-matching schemes in all theatres and concert venues.

‘DCMS love match funding and they love pilot schemes,’ says Staples. ‘The hope now is that every venue and institution that needed help will be saved, and that the government will soon roll out a seat-matching stimulus nationwide.’

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