Dr Stephen Langston is senior lecturer and programme leader for performance at the University of the West of Scotland

“WHAT can I not spend my money on?” It’s a difficult question that most of us are being forced to ask ourselves right now, due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

For every penny we decide not to spend, however, there’s a consequence. As time passes, and energy bills rise, that consequence may be a reframing of the question. “What can I not spend my money on?” will quite quickly become “what can I no longer spend my money on?” as companies fold, and entire sectors collapse.

Pardon the grim prediction, but as a producer, director and composer, I am deeply concerned about what is to come, and what it might mean for the future of the arts in this country.

In the context of the current economic climate, I completely understand why the arts sector isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind. How could it be? But believe me when I say, it matters. Scottish government statistics estimate that 73,000 people work in the creative industries in Scotland, contributing more than £5billion to the Scottish economy. The amateur performing network consists of more than 3,500 yearly productions, enjoyed by audiences of more then two million, while the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) boasts more than 100,000 members; covering a broad range of ages.

When one thinks of the arts, it’s very easy to think purely in terms of entertainment; when in reality it’s an effective vehicle for change. Hundreds of specialist drama and music education groups exist around Scotland, dealing with things like mental health, community development, learning difficulties, criminal rehabilitation and dementia.

Colleagues of mine at the University of the West of Scotland have developed many effective projects based around performance. Recent examples include a project designed to upskill survivors of modern slavery and child trafficking, a programme using the arts to help young people deal with the feelings that lead to suicide and research on relaxed performances for those with dementia and learning difficulties. These are life-changing programmes, yet only scratch the surface of what has been achieved through this medium.

The cost-of-living crisis, unfortunately, threatens the very infrastructure of Scotland’s performance industry, and will place an unmeasurable and – perhaps – an irreversible pressure on groups that rely on audience or participant funding. Ticket and membership prices will, inevitably, rise; but can the public afford to pay that as their own financial problems increase?

If we previously had any expendable income, a trip to the theatre is not going to be a priority. Heating and food, understandably, takes precedence, so a circular financial problem becomes evident. But the problem extends beyond the individual. A theatre with a capacity of 1000 can expect utility bills of approximately £100,000 per year, and the recent increases would double that figure.

It’s not just about energy. Wood costs for set building have already risen dramatically, and the rise of prices will of course extend to the interval ice cream and drinks. Increases will have to happen just to keep the venue physically open, and to have a chance of even breaking even. The current landscape could be the nail in the coffin for subsidised, commercial and amateur organisations – causing them to evaporate into a forgotten priority, swallowed up by the gas bill.

My industry is already feeling the bite. Arts organisations are signalling problems with reduced audience and participant numbers post-covid, along with rising venue hire costs. Last week saw the Edinburgh Festival draw to a close, after what was supposed to be its grand return. Worryingly, even this cultural lynchpin experienced a 25% drop in ticket sales, compared to 2019.

Furthermore, there’s the knock-on effect from Covid. Recent research from Scotinform found that only 60% of audiences have returned to theatre or concert venues since lockdown was relaxed. Survey participants indicated that they were still nervous about sharing smaller indoor environments and public transportation with each other.

Theatre charities are now facing a flood of funding applications from workers due to the cost-of-living crisis. Equity – the acting union – recently called on their members to demonstrate, demanding that the UK government shield them from this debilitating financial impact. Actors’ wages, like most, have not risen in line with inflation.

The performing arts industry is not a luxury commodity, it is an essential experience that defines the human, nurtures our children, and divulges our history. It is an educational tool that develops the individual in confidence, speech, intellect, and free will. It is a media outlet allowing us to tell our stories, relate our past and release our anxieties through escapism.

A performer is an expert communicator, and it is time to utilise those skills to save not only our industry, but our ability to express, enjoy and participate freely through the creative industry. Participants and enthusiasts of the performing arts need to support the passion, not only by encouraging and assisting each other, but by influencing others to redesign the infrastructure of the industry, to survive the situation we find ourselves in.

There is no quick fix solution, but the gathering together of collective minds and public support will influence and guide change. I will continue to encourage my students to experiment and be bold with their studies; I will continue my work in the industry supporting and educating during and out with times of crisis, and I will continue to use my voice as an academic and practitioner to inspire and guide.

We need to demand change and encourage all practitioners, academics, audiences, and participants to collectively come forwards as advocates for the performance industry. We need to work with the government and funding organisations, to create a new, fair and sustainable model that showcases the arts and delivers a system that benefits all, irrespective of class and finance.

We only get one chance in life, and we are here to live. The arts encompass that belief through all walks of life. Whatever your personal passion is, imagine a world without it. Let’s stop the degeneration and influence the next ‘normal’ by getting it right, at home, here in Scotland.