It’s been a tough year for the arts industry, that’s for sure. With closures and hopeful partial re-openings dominating the news feeds, the industry has been working nose to the grindstone for months. Victoria Smith, like others, has decided to take some action and do what she can to support. In September, the fundraising initiative #Theatrefor1pound was launched and funds raised are set to go to Yorkshire-based organisations like Northern Ballet and Leeds Playhouse. Here, Victoria explains how it all began, how it’s going and what she hope to achieve long-term…
So you’ve set up the fundraising site #theatrefor1pound which has raised over £1400 since September. What prompted you to start the site?
#theatrefor1pound was launched to help those in the Arts following the Covid 19 pandemic. Theatre is for everyone and I wanted to encourage as many people as possible to help in a small way. The idea was if everyone gave a £1 collectively it would make a huge difference!”
Sounds like a plan to me! There’s a personal link here too, via your daughter Izzy, isn’t there?
Yes there is… Izzy is at Northern Ballet more than at home! She is training on the professional programme in the same building as the Company Dancers at Northern Ballet in the centre of Leeds. It’s a magical, inspirational and very unique set up as they are totally immersed in the “Ballet World”. The students have the opportunity to watch Company class and rehearsals, see choreographers and musicians at work and witness first hand how disciplined, focused, committed and hard you have to work to be successful in the Arts.
How did your love of the arts originate and for you, what makes the arts industry so important and so worthy of a cause like this?
As a family we have always loved going to the theatre to watch a number of productions, however it’s really escalated since our daughter started on the Centre for Advanced Training Programme. So since then we have watched numerous ballet performances by a number of Companies such as The Royal Ballet, New Adventures, Ballet Black, Acosta Danza as well as the productions by Northern Ballet.
The industry is so important to everyone as there are a huge number of talented people, not just dancers whose lives have been dramatically affected. The list seems endless: musicians; costume/set designers; writers; actors; choreographers; singers; make up; conductors; lighting engineers; front of house; special effects; photographers; marketing and advertising; pastoral; producers; script writers; journalists; physiotherapists; box office staff and the driver of the lorry to transport the set from one theatre to another.
The £1 suggestion is a fantastic way to pitch the idea in a time which is so difficult for so many. Do you think limiting the pressure of donating by suggesting an amount lower than most initiatives has had a significant impact on the amount of people donating?
With #theatrefor1pound it is as the campaign name indicates that a donation of a £1 is brilliant and plenty too! I was conscious that we are all struggling with this current situation. Every single person and every industry is having a harsh time, so I wanted people to feel comfortable to give £1 as a way of being empathetic towards everyone’s current circumstances. People have given more which has been amazing, but if everyone just gave £1 it really will add up and we can raise a huge amount of money!
#Theatrefor1pound is focused on dance companies and theatres, particularly in Yorkshire. Can I ask if you feel, as some do, that the north has had a raw deal when it comes to tiers and financial support for the arts?
I wanted to concentrate on Northern Ballet and its nearby theatre Leeds Playhouse as they are relevant to us as a family. However I wish to help others if this is a successful project. Perhaps the North in some respects is thought of as less exciting and innovative as theatres and companies based in the South. However Northern Ballet is one of the most accredited touring Dance Companies in the UK and have created new ballets such as the mind blowing Casanova and Geisha by Kenneth Tindall, Cathy Marston’s Victoria and numerous ballets by David Nixon.
There is so much talent in the North! It has been especially tough being in hardest tiers for such as long time. However the theatre is for everyone whether it’s the annual pantomime that you just see or opera, musicals, drama or a comedy. It has been proven that it is safe in this situation for audiences to attend. It’s an all-encompassing experience, an escape and can open up discussions; it’s thought provoking and can only be experienced live in these special venues.
I hope the Government continues to help the Arts as it’s vitally important to those that work in the industry as theatre has been here for hundreds of years and needs to be able to continue to operate, thrive and be lovingly preserved.
Ideally, what would you like to see happen in support of the arts going forward – governmental or otherwise?
We were fortunate to watch Northern Ballet perform at the Leeds Playhouse during October in the small window that was allowed. It felt so safe and it was fabulous to see how the dancers just relished being back in stage and the sheer joy you could see on their faces. The theatre was full of energy, it was really special. The safety measures were all in place and everyone cooperated fully.
Everyone is willing to work hard to make it safe and it has shown it can be achieved. If the government can provide enough financial support to enable every single theatre to put measures in place in order to remain open and support every single freelancers and employee until they can go back to work properly that would be a huge step forward and the correct and necessary step for the Government to take.
The photo for the campaign also features your daughter Izzy, dancing in the sea – why was that particular image chosen?
The picture I have used to represent the campaign is of our daughter Izzy dancing in the sea while on holiday in Elie in Scotland, which is a special place to us. In the photo she has her arms up aiming high to portray reaching for the stars and following your dreams. I felt that being by the sea helped to illustrate calmness, thoughtfulness and hopefulness to all. Being by the sea can make you feel happy, content, give you energy, make you think or reminisce, it’s a wonder!
And finally, do you hope to keep the site in play post-pandemic and beyond?
My aim if this is a success is to help other theatres and dance companies nationwide. The fundraising site can be open for a year or beyond if you so choose. Therefore I feel as long as theatres are in need of support as it could be a while for things to be as they were, I will endeavour to keep #theatrefor1pound going. Even if it makes a small difference so that young people who are wishing to follow their dreams will have an industry to join and those already working in this wonderful environment can still do so as it’s a big team that’s involved.
It’s a special unique gift to be able to perform live. People give part of their soul to the audience and it must continue!
So there you have it! Please consider donating to #theatrefor1pound if you are able to do so – Victoria and her chosen organisations are immensely grateful for any and all support people are able to give.
Interested in what fund recipients Northern Ballet and Leeds Playhouse have had to say about #theatrefor1pound? Look no further!
Northern Ballet said ‘we are incredibly grateful to Victoria for creating the #theatrefor1pound campaign. At Northern Ballet our mission is to share the joy of dance with the widest possible audience and the funds raised by this campaign will help us to make ballet accessible to everyone, everywhere. Thank you to everyone who supports the Company by making a donation”
Leeds Playhouse have said: “We are really grateful for the time and generosity that Victoria and many others are showing our industry, especially at a time when there is hardship for so many. Over the past eight months the Playhouse has found innovative ways to stay connected through moving practices online and when the theatre was able to re open in September creating Covid-19 secure environment that meant audiences and participants could reconnect with the experience of live theatre safely. Every penny raised will support the work we create for our stages, the way we engage with our communities and develop local artists.”