The UK Performing Arts Industry: A breakdown

25 April, 2024

Time and time again, the performing arts industry has proved itself resilient in the face of adversity.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Black Death devastated Europe. Yet theatre survived. In fact, Shakespeare even used the plague as source material in Romeo and Juliet – and our own generation has experienced a comparable challenge in the form of Covid-19: we saw theatres shut their doors, plays suspended, and staff lose their jobs.

As a medium that predominantly relies on live audiences, performing arts faced even greater challenges than music and film. But theatre is deeply embedded in the British psyche, and we are not ready to let it go.

At BIMM University, we recognise the need to be resilient and adaptable in the ever-changing arts and entertainment sector. At each of our specialist performing arts schools – ICTheatre, Northern Ballet School and Performers College – our courses are designed to reflect the contemporary industry. We ensure that by the time you graduate, you’ll have both the performance and entrepreneurial skills to build a long-lasting career.

Key stats

Society of London Theatre’s Box Office Data Report 2022 stated that theatre attendance in London increased by 7.2% since 2019, with a staggering 16.4 million visits during 2022.

The report also shows that the number of theatre performances in England’s capital increased by roughly 4.7% in 2022 compared to 2019.

In the 2022/2023 financial year, the earned income* of UK theatres was approximately £303 million. During the pandemic years, this figure was just £49 million.

Music, performance and visual arts contributed an estimated £11.5 billion to the UK economy in 2022, according to official government figures. This is £1.5 billion higher than the figure for 2019.

*‘Earned income’ refers to money gained through box office, fees, retail sales, etc.

students perform in tudor costume, with the lead holding a skull

See our grads on the West End

  • SIX, Vaudeville Theatre

Henry VIII’s wives reclaim their stories in this fabulous musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Recently celebrating six years on the West End, the production features graduate Nikki Bentley in the star role of Catherine of Aragon.

  • Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Picadilly Theatre

This stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s iconic film premiered in London in November 2021 and is still going strong. With a cast that includes graduates Catrin Thomas and Ben Rutter, this flamboyant production will dazzle your senses and immerse you in 1890s Paris.

  • Sunset Boulevard, Savoy Theatre

Starring Nicole Scherzinger, this reinvention of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical used live video to blur the relationship between film and theatre, winning seven Olivier awards in the process. Graduate Mireia Mamboperformed several roles and was also dance captain.

  • Mean Girls, Savoy Theatre

Riding the wave of excitement sparked by the recent film adaptation, Tina Fey’s hit musical is officially coming back to London in June, with booking extended until February 2025. Graduate Tommy Wade Smith will help bring this production to life as dance captain/swing.

students laugh during a rehearsal at our essex campus

It’s award season!

Mark Gatiss was the recipient of the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre Award at the 2023 UK Theatre Awards, in part for his leading role in The Motive and the Cue.

At the Black British Theatre Awards 2023, Going For Gold won three awards, while Sylvia and Nina: By Whatever Means picked up two each. In the Musicals category, Elesha Paul Moses was voted Best Female Lead Actor for her spectacular performance in The Tina Turner Musical.

As we have seen, Sunset Boulevard shone at the 2024 Oliviers, winning Best Musical Revival and six other prizes. Best Actress went to Sarah Snook for The Picture of Dorian Gray, while Mark Gatiss bagged the award for Best Actor.

student act out a scene with one of them gesturing towards the audience

Going digital

During the Covid-19 pandemic, digital shows were the only option for UK theatres, with several organisations even building their own online platforms. However, by the end of 2021, over half of UK theatres that offered online performances during the pandemic had reverted to in-person shows (The Guardian, 2021).

The video games industry is booming, and as it expands, so does the demand for skilled actors. With storytelling at the forefront of game design, characters must engage players with depth and authenticity, and a 2021 Stage article explains how voice acting can not only be creatively rewarding, but also financially lucrative.

Throughout the last year, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the creative industries has been a subject of heavy debate. In the UK, the trade union Equity is lobbying for new laws to regulate the use of AI in the performing arts; thanks to their extensive campaigning, the government has already abandoned its controversial data mining exemption policy.

students hold protest signs during a performance of Made in Dagenham

How can we make theatre more accessible?

Arts Council England (ACE) is currently working on a new strategy to improve the experience of D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people attending arts events; this includes theatres, concerts, festivals, museums, libraries and more.

The All In scheme will introduce UK-wide accessibility standards; offer staff training and resources; and launch a digital system that allows those with access requirements to share their profile with the organisation. By streamlining the booking process, All In hopes to introduce new audiences to creative and cultural events.

Before opening this booking system to the public, there will be a pilot scheme. Having been delayed by two years, this is now due to launch in 2024.

a student rehearses at our essex campus with a determined look on her face

Government schemes

ACE was asked by the government to distribute more of its funding outside London, and the government has now promised that an additional £75 million will be provided by 2025. This, plus the £2 billion Culture Recovery Fund set up during the pandemic, means that “there has never been greater levels of investment by the taxpayer in culture in the post-war period.”

In March 2024, the government announced a new permanent rate of tax relief for theatres in the UK. In addition, a whopping £26 million of funding will be given to London’s National Theatre.

The British Academy’s Pandemic Preparedness programme aims to discover the lessons we can learn from Covid-19 in all areas of society. Amidst the seven funded research projects, there is one that focuses exclusively on the live performing arts, which is being conducted by scholars from the UK, Germany, US and Canada.

a student cances for a panel of agents in one of our studios

Setting the stage

We are committed to providing our students with the network they need to succeed as performers. At our exclusive Agent Panel Days, agents are invited to our campuses to audition our students. These events also provide opportunities for students to learn more about the performing arts industry, including the process of applying for representation.

We train our graduates to be versatile performers that can adapt to working within a range of outputs. Our alumni have found success in various types of productions and roles, from the Moulin Rouge to Disneyland. We’ve also seen them on the big screen, with at least ten Performers College graduates securing roles in Barbie.

To find out more about how we are helping students build their careers in the performing arts industry,

To find out more about how we are helping students build their careers in the performing arts industry, upcoming auditions and how to apply, contact us at [email protected] or book an Open Day on our Events page.

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