The Gate Theatre says it will not present its usual full year of productions in 2022 as it grapples with an “unsustainable” financial model and the outfall of Covid.
Following what the Dublin theatre’s annual accounts described as the “financially devastating” impact of Covid, with operating losses of €509,868 in 2020, rumours spread this week within the theatre sector that The Gate would be “going dark” – ceasing to present shows – next March. This would coincide with the end of its run of a new production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame when Selina Cartmell steps down after a five-year term as director and CEO.
The theatre, founded in 1928 by Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir, will instead have a stop-start year in 2022, with potentially long gaps between productions.
Theatre chairman Peter Crowley told The Irish Times that “it’s nobody’s intention for The Gate to go dark” but acknowledged there would be a “cautious approach” next year. “There will be periods where The Gate is quiet. We won’t be producing all of the time, but there will be shows after Endgame.
“Plans are being made for other shows in 2022. The intention of everybody is that The Gate will continue to operate. We’re just having to tread cautiously.”
He couldn’t confirm the number of productions in 2022. The theatre’s model is “currently unsustainable”, he said.
The Gate has long been dependent on close to full occupancy. Ticket sales usually makeup 67 per cent of turnover, with 23 per cent coming from Arts Council support and 10 per cent from fundraising.
‘Exceptionally financially challenged’
Crowley said the board had been “working intensively” on addressing difficulties. “There’s no doubt The Gate is exceptionally financially challenged, especially emerging slowly out of Covid into an environment where for the foreseeable you can’t rely on the high box office returns that The Gate has always needed,” he said. “The weakness of relying on that is more of an issue now.”
He said the board was working collaboratively with the Arts Council to resolve the challenges faced by the theatre. “There’s a lot of commitment to do so, and to get to a sustainable model.”
Crowley confirmed recruitment for Cartmell’s replacement will begin before the end of 2021, with the expectation of an appointment by March.
Assuming successful funding discussions, he said, “The Gate will go into 2023 at full pelt, hopefully, to take it forward as a stronger theatre for the next 90 years”.
There were no Gate Theatre shows for over a year after Nancy Harris’s Our New Girl abruptly shut in March 2020. Even then, production returned slowly, with online-only The Visiting Hour by Frank McGuinness, followed by Mikel Murfi’s MiddleTown in a touring truck.
The first live audience in 20 months at the theatre was last month, for Philip McMahon’s premiere Once Before I Go during Dublin Theatre Festival.